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RPG The Almagest Expedition

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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/edith_grimoire.jpg[/img][/center]
[font=garamond][size=4][right][B]From Gryphons to Grimoire[/B][/right][/font][/size]
[font=palatino linotype]The Brigit Town aerodrome was an odd structure, sitting in the middle of the desert and looking rather like a hunched-over animal of some kind. It took more than an hour to drive to the aerodrome by steam car from Brigit Town itself and it was mostly used by mine workers and construction engineers. Large magitech airships ferried thousands of workers to and from Brigit Town; many workers did not live in the town itself and commuted in from Anova or Czenovia.

There were, of course, non-mining businesses in Brigit Town; although mining was still the city’s primary industry. The city was one of the oldest and most colourful in the New Globe – partly due to this fact, as well as its abundant natural resources, it had changed hands many times throughout history. Prior to the Mine War (a relatively recent event in terms of New Globe history), the town was part of Anova. In the war, Czenovia annexed the region and Brigit Town remained in Czenovian hands forever after. The city still bore heavy Czenovian influences; the Magitech Corporation was pervasive and nearly every building or vehicle carried its famous (or infamous) logo.

Many Anovans disliked the continuing Czenovian influence, but Gustave was far more philosophical about it. The mine workers were almost evenly divided between both nationalities, which made Brigit Town a truly unique place. Gustave thought it interesting that so many thousands of workers could intermingle without any trouble and, in fact, the atmosphere within most Brigit Town mines was enthusiastic and cordial. Moreover, it was the Czenovian influence (via Magitech Corp) that had allowed the mines to grow and prosper. Magitechnology underpinned the city and without it, Brigit Town was at risk of dying out completely. For this critical reason, the Czenovian presence was tolerated – if not entirely accepted – by most Anovans.




Gustave balanced himself inside a long, wooden trailer. It shook and rattled along the uneven road as the caravan made its way towards the aerodrome, which loomed in the distance. A sudden bump caused the entire wagon to lurch to one side; Gustave almost toppled over completely. He gripped the side handrail tightly and glared over at Victoria Ann, who stood on the opposite side. Lucy was between them, and she at least had the benefit of a roof-mounted harness to keep her from hitting the deck.

‘Remind me why we are here again?’ shouted Gustave over the thunderous noise. It was hard to decide what was louder: the rush of wind from outside or the heavy thud and rattle of the large wheels and metal joints protesting with each undulation.

Victoria grinned broadly. A large sack of greens sat by her feet; both she and Lucy didn’t seem to notice the turbulence whatsoever.

‘Because it’s fun, of course! Besides, the scenery is so boring here [i]and[/i] we’re keeping Lucy company.’

Lucy certainly seemed happy. And it was true that she was far more relaxed with Victoria Ann around.

Gustave grinned ever so slightly. Standing in the wooden trailer, where he could see the road rush past through gaps in the timber floor, he was reminded of the days when he used to explore the world. In those days, he often slept under the stars or navigated treacherous jungles – mostly on his own. Since then, though, he had become used to life in the city; he had been able to use his money for comfort rather than adventure. All it took was Victoria’s youthful sense of fun and excitement to raise this memory. Far from being annoyed, Gustave was thankful; he’d never have attempted anything like this without Victoria. At the same time, his mind wandered back to the project he had been working on for more than two years. He wanted to show it to Victoria. Despite its scale, the entire venture felt like Gustave’s tenuous, fading link to his former life. Would he ever get to make use of it? He had initially thought not, although the faint scent of impending adventure had a way of opening up all kinds of possibilities in his mind.




Victoria Ann dived out of the trailer as its side opened. Several of Gustave’s staff had to move the heavy wooden door, which sat on thick metal rails. As Victoria and Gustave exited into the aerodrome, the staff moved in and prepared to remove Lucy’s restraints.

The caravan had pulled into the aerodrome’s freight area, which was typically used for mining materials and equipment, but which was the only place where chimaera could be loaded and unloaded. Gustave examined the caravan (which consisted of several steamcars and trailers) and, once satisfied, he looked down at Victoria who was waving to Lucy as she was being led away.

She looked up at Gustave. ‘What now?’

Gustave examined his pocket watch. ‘Time for another flight, I’m afraid. Platform seven.’

Victoria blinked. ‘But we left the [i]Alaina[/i] behind!’

‘Oh, we aren’t returning on the [i]Alaina[/i]. She’s been docked back in the city for maintenance and cleaning. We are taking a smaller airship, it’s a little faster.’

As the pair walked towards platform seven, Victoria finally caught a glimpse of the new ship. It was far smaller than the [i]Alaina[/i]. As they walked, Gustave told her about it.

‘This is the [i]Zurich[/i]. It’s a smaller Anovan-built airship, made by Crank & Coyle.’

‘Crank & Coyle? What’s that?’

‘It’s one of the larger Anovan airship builders. The two founders are originally from Czenovia and they import magitech engines to use in their ships.’

As they came closer to the ship, they saw that it was standing on platform seven between two other much larger ships. The two larger ships were enormous industrial freighters and the [i]Zurich[/i] looked odd sitting between them. Not only different in size, the [i]Zurich[/i] was radically different in style. The freighters were enormous, grey airships with what looked like miles of external pipes running around their hulls and breathing steam into the air from numerous vents. The [i]Zurich[/i] looked to be made primarily of wood, with parts of the hull coated in silver plating. Where the freighters hovered noisily just above their platforms, the [i]Zurich[/i] was propped silently on four legs. The legs were shiny silver and they looked to have moulded gryphon paws on their ends.

Victoria giggled to herself. ‘Gryphon paws? I’ve never seen an airship with feet before!’

‘Oh yes, those are the landing props. Aren’t they pretty? The gryphon is one of Anova’s national animals, although they are very rare now. There are few in the wild, except perhaps in Vosper…’

‘I feel so unworldly,’ Victoria admitted sheepishly. ‘What is Vosper?’

‘You’ve never been anywhere near it,’ replied Gustave calmly, ‘so it makes sense that you may not be familiar with it. Besides, I don’t think Czenovian schools teach much Anovan geography!’

Victoria smiled and her nose crinkled. ‘It’s kind of a shame really. I never did understand all this rivalry… seems like a pointless adult thing to me.’

Gustave nodded. ‘Yes, you’re probably right about that. Sometimes adults make things far too complicated. In any case, Vosper is actually a mountain. Well, I guess the entire region is known as “Vosper” as well. It’s in the north east of Anova and as far as I know, Vosper is the tallest peak in the New Globe. It’s a very treacherous place indeed.’

‘But gryphons still live there?’

‘Oh yes,’ replied Gustave as they stopped in front of the [i]Zurich[/i]. ‘I believe gryphons are one of the few animals capable of living there. If you wanted to travel to Vosper, you couldn’t even take an airship – the pressures are so great closer to the peak that most airships would malfunction. Not to mention the fact that Vosper is known for some very strange weather phenomenon in general.’

Gustave gestured towards the ramp which led to the [i]Zurich’s[/i] deck. ‘So, if you want to go to Vosper, you really have to be prepared. You need all the right equipment and the right breed of chimaera. Preferably you want a flying chimaera too, in case it loses its footing on some of those icy cliffs.’

Victoria shivered at the thought. ‘It sounds like a scary place,’ she said.

‘Actually, Vosper is incredibly beautiful,’ said Gustave with a faint smile. ‘Few people have reached the summit and even fewer have explored the Shadow Valley nearby. But those who have been say the views are stunning. There are all sorts of rumors about Vosper… it plays a big role in Anovan legend.’

Finally, they were aboard the [i]Zurich’s[/i] deck and the ramp retracted. ‘How did we end up talking about Vosper and gryphons anyway?’ Victoria laughed.

‘I’m not sure, I think we started talking about gryphon feet,’ chuckled Gustave, ‘but Anova is a pretty interesting place anyway. Most people only think of Le Monde, but there is so much more out there. Anyway, I think we are just about ready to depart. Feel free to make yourself comfortable for the trip – it should only take a couple of hours. The fashion show awaits!’




Golden yellow desert gave way to rolling green plains, as the [i]Zurich[/i] sailed through Anova’s sapphire sky. Gustave sat in his drawing room, while Victoria Ann had returned to the cargo hold to spend time with Lucy. Victoria’s commitment to Lucy was impressive, especially because everybody knew she didn’t like travelling.

Gustave’s desk was littered with paperwork. He had not yet finalized the sale of his airship business, which had always been relatively small. Crank & Coyle in Le Monde had made the highest bid and Gustave was prepared to sell, but he was still using the company’s factory to produce parts for his special project. He figured he’d need the factory for another few weeks, but Crank & Coyle wanted to buy immediately. If he rejected the sale, however, it was unlikely that any other bidders would be interested.

Perhaps, after the fashion show, Gustave might visit their offices in the city. He had never met the mysterious and secretive leaders of the company – in fact, few had. There were various rumors about the company figureheads, who were rarely seen even in their own offices. Other managers ran the company day-to-day.

As he sorted through the paperwork, Gustave’s mind shifted to the outburst he’d witnessed aboard the [i]Alaina[/i] during the wedding. What was Olivier’s document and why was he discussing it with Leonhart? He had told Gustave that more would be revealed upon his return to Le Monde, but he just couldn’t wait for that.

Gustave’s thoughts were interrupted by the crackling of a speaker on his desk. ‘Sir, we are now approaching Le Monde via Bourgade. Please prepare for landing.’

[i]It’s been two hours?[/i] Gustave suddenly felt tired.

As he went to stand up and walk to the deck, the [i]Zurich[/i] lurched sharply to the right. It was so sudden that Gustave came off his feet and tumbled sideways. He twisted his ankle and landed with full force against his shoulders. ‘Ugh, my god, what was that?’ he said to himself.

The [i]Zurich[/i] righted herself quickly, but strong vibrations pulsated through the hull. Gustave could feel them running up his boots.

When he finally pushed the door open and stepped out onto the deck, he could not believe what he saw. The ship’s crew were madly running back and forth, most carrying armfuls of tools. Victoria Ann emerged onto the deck as well and she looked straight at Gustave with large, frightened eyes.

‘Uncle Gustave, what’s going on?!’

He could barely hear her over a deep grinding sound that was coming from somewhere beneath their feet. He ran to her and took her hand. ‘I don’t know, but we must try to find a safe place until this is sorted out! Must be something wrong with the engine!’

Several thick bands of black smoke billowed from both sides of the ship. They looked like long black chains, reaching up into the pearlescent clouds.

As the [i]Zurich[/i] began descending rapidly towards Bourgade, Gustave realized that there was no escape. Luckily the ship was dropping slowly enough that they [i]might[/i] have a chance.

‘Quickly,’ he gasped, ‘grab the ropes just near you and hold on tight! We’re going down!’

There were many thick ropes running up and down from the railing to the cabin roof. Victoria obeyed Gustave’s command and grabbed a pair of ropes. She wrapped them around her arms and closed her eyes. Gustave stood by her and put his arms around her, while also grabbing the ropes. He thought he could at least shield her from some of the impact.




Gustave opened his eyes. The air was thick with dust and at first he couldn’t see much of anything. Eventually, he heard what sounded like dozens of people scurrying around him. As he came to and sat up, the reality dawned on him.

Amazingly, the deck of the [i]Zurich[/i] was mostly intact. It was clear from the angle, though, that most of the hull had given way. The area surrounding the ship was covered with debris, including large planks of wood and smoking metal.

[i]Oh my god, what about Victoria?![/i]

Gustave scrambled to his feet and looked around. Through the smoke he saw Victoria standing on the other side of the deck. She was holding her stomach and coughing.

‘Victoria! Are you all right?’ he called as he made his way to her.

Victoria looked up and nodded weakly. ‘Yes, I think so… I have a terrible headache… this was so sudden…’ She coughed again and Gustave patted her back.

As the pair gathered themselves, they heard a loud metallic wailing sound coming from the street nearby. It was the Special Security Force, no doubt arriving in steamcars to investigate.

It looked as though the crew had come through unscathed, although several crew members were tending to shipmates who were bruised and bleeding from the impact. It was a miracle they had all come through relatively unscathed.

Gustave looked down at Victoria who seemed to be gathering herself surprisingly quickly. ‘Where are we?’

It was a good question. As he mentally mapped out their descent, Gustave thought aloud. ‘Last I remember, we were about to fly over Bourgade,’ he looked around, ‘and it looks like we are, uh…well, we’ve landed in someone’s backyard.’

‘And not just anyone’s backyard,’ said a sharp, light voice from somewhere nearby.

Startled, Gustave and Victoria both spun around at once. A slender woman was walking down the rear steps of an enormous nearby house – apparently the backyard belonged to it, although it appeared that the house was on a different block. Gustave immediately recognized the woman; it was Edith Grimoire.

She almost seemed to float down the stairs and towards them with unnerving speed. ‘Do you know how long it took to landscape these grounds? Who are you?’

Victoria blinked and stood slightly behind Gustave. This strange woman with her flame-like hair and sharp, piercing eyes was perhaps more frightening than the crash landing itself.

Gustave smiled as earnestly as he could. ‘Gustave Achard,’ he said. ‘You must be Edith Grimoire.’

‘Oh!’ Edith clapped her hands together. ‘The famous chimaera jockey. What a shame you aren’t as talented with airship flight as you are with chimaera racing.’ Her eyes flickered across steaming wreckage in her yard.

Gustave grinned through his teeth. ‘And this,’ he added, ‘is Miss Victoria Ann Almagest. We were headed back to the city from a wedding.’

Victoria smiled. ‘Pleased to meet you,’ she said politely.

‘Yes, a pleasure,’ replied Edith. Her eyes shifted back to Gustave. She did not seem to blink – or if she did, it was difficult to notice.

'Actually, we were on our way here partly to view your fashion show. Victoria Ann has come all the way from High Czenoble to see it,' said Gustave, sensing an opportunity.

For a moment Edith said nothing, but eventually her expression softened ever so slightly.

'Well, the show doesn't begin until tomorrow morning and with this mess in my yard, I will have trouble concentrating. However, I [i]suppose[/i] you must be shaken up from your brush with death...'

Gustave scratched his head. 'Er, well, you could say that. And with the SSF here, we must move out of the yard to give them space to investigate. Not to mention the fact that I have just lost one of my family's most prized airships...'

'Indeed,' replied Edith sharply. Her eyes moved over the wreck once more. She appreciated good design and clearly, losing a ship as beautiful as the [i]Zurich[/i] would pain anyone - especially a woman with an artistic eye.

'In that case, you may be best to come inside for some tea before you move on. My staff will organize this for you.'

For a moment Victoria seemed to be tugging on Gustave's arm, as if to encourage him to leave immediately. But he knew that they had to collect themselves after such an incident. Achard Hall was only a few blocks away, but Gustave thought it best to wait, given that one or both of them could still be in some kind of shock.

'You are most kind,' said Gustave with as cheerful a smile as he could manage.

Edith nodded and began walking back towards the house.

'Uncle Gustave!' cried Victoria, 'do you really want to go in there with that woman? I'm already feeling sick, I don't think I can handle the stress of having to talk to her again...'

Gustave patted Victoria on the shoulder. 'I understand, Victoria. But look... we are lucky to even be standing here unscathed. And the SSF may want to talk to me about this. We are best to wait here for a couple of hours before moving off. Perhaps you can have some tea and lie down for a little while. Then, I promise you, I will take you to my home and you'll be more comfortable.'

Victoria reluctantly nodded. [/font][/indent]

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[FONT="Palatino Linotype"][COLOR="DarkSlateBlue"]A luminous glow fills the Stelmaria's bridge as it cruises through the night. The seawater under it reflects its silver broadside, giving the illusion of a second ship flying adjacent to it. Inside its cockpit, Jack sips whiskey long and graciously, enjoying its burn as it trickles down his throat. He takes one long swig, holding his flask to his mouth as long as he can. The burn rages war against his senses as he begins to feel it in his ears, nose, and mouth. Pulling the flask away, Jack feels the burn sink down his throat to chase his liquor down and coughs a little. Here he is, a pawn in his sisters' machinations and the best response to their use of him was to drink to them. [B]"Cheers![/B]" he yells to no one and he raises his flask into the air.

[B]"I'm not sure if I want a drunk pilot."[/B] comes a woman's voice from behind him, the safeties in Jack's automail arm release themselves.[B] "Maybe you should let someone else from your crew take the helm."[/B]

Jack glances up as sees that it is only one of his hitchhikers. Belmonda, he remembers. [B]"Why don't you go back to your quarters, love."[/B] he says, [B]"We will be in the Vosper region soon. Look, the water's turning to ice."[/B]

He points out to the sea in front of them, showing Bella the small white chicklets of ice forming underneath the ship. She walks close to the window and stares outside. [B]"The view is beautiful."[/B] she says, taking in the moon and the sea, she had never been in a ship that flew this low before. [B]"Can I sit down?"[/B] she asks, referring to the empty co-pilot seat.

[B]"If you must."[/B]

The two sit there and Jack, in a spell of slight inebriation looks her up and down. Maybe its the light from the moon, or the liquor he just finished drinking, but he swears she looks just like Audrey, perhaps with longer hair. Just looking at her reminds him of earlier that day. When the woman he is reminiscing about actually was the one he was looking at. Earlier today he met with Audrey, felt her skin, ran his fingers through her hair, and laid with her, but once again, she chose not to return to life on his ship. He takes another swig, and continues on the course.
[B]
"In the morning I want you and your friends dressed, warmly, and ready to go. We have a lot of ground to cover tomorrow, and we should move as fast as possible."[/B]

[B]"Why?"[/B] Bella asks, standing and stretching slightly.

[B]"Because your friend, Frederic... Well, you'll see. Go back to the stables. We climb the mountain by beast-back tomorrow."[/B]

[B]"I have a feeling you don't want me here, Mr. Deacon."[/B] says Bella defiantly. Jack's arm safeties release again, making a loud click noise. He has yet to learn how to control that reflex, especially under the influence of liquor. He would much rather be left alone to his misery right now, and at the same times he knows this isn't a friendly visit from her.

[B]"You don't trust me, do you Miss Achard?"[/B] he questions. She looks at him, taken aback by his bluntness. [B]"You have nothing to worry about, as long as you are on this ship, and in my care, I will not endeavor to wrong you."[/B]

[B]"That is not it..."[/B] Bella says, [B]"You're an Almag-"[/B]

[B]"I'm a DEACON!"[/B] yells Jack, slamming his fist into the arm rest. Bella's face flushes and she stands up to leave. As she moves to leave she feels Jack grab her by the arm. [B]"I'm sorry. Please don't hold this moment against me."[/B] he says. She tries to free herself from him, but his grip is steady as he begins to talk again, [B]"I knew Vincent."[/B]

At the mention of the name, Bella stops struggling and looks at Jack. [B]"We met only briefly, and I also met his whore-witch of an ex-wife, Macey Ellen. I knew everyone he loved in that family, for better or worse, and everyone who loved him. I was there when Rosier, the man who ordered his execution, was shot dead and Vincent's murder was avenged. Now here I am, escorting members of his family to Vosper to uncover something that non of us can begin to understand at this point. I don't know Vincent as well as you or Frederic, but fate has somehow tied me to him, and as long as I'm here, I will make sure no one he cares about will come to harm."[/B]

Bella frees her arm and looks deep into Jack's hazel eyes,[B] "You know nothing of Vincent."[/B] she says, storming off to her quarters within the ship. Jack watches her leave, wishing there were more he could say to make her feel better, but he's silent. Vincent's death affected many, even Jack by proxy. Had it not been for Vincent's passing, he and Audrey... Well, she's in the past now. Jack focuses once more at his task at hand and pushes the throttle forward, wishing to end this damned journey.

A rooster tail rises behind the Stelmaria as it blasts along, Mt. Vosper visible on the horizon.[/COLOR][/FONT]

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Elaine was not surprised to find that the [I]Ibert[/I] was already being loaded up with supplies, including some chimeras. If there was one thing she had noticed since she became a Priestess, there was nothing that the Sief missed. The woman had a talent for organizing things in addition to finding the right person to oversee certain aspects of the Church.

It had to be why she was going along. It was more than just for spiritual guidance; she was trained to treat the sick. Not to the same extent as a true studier of the medical arts but she certainly knew enough. Elaine couldn?t help but notice all of the supplies as she boarded the airship, supplies that indicated they?d be traveling away from the airship.

There were kits for making a camp among other things and though the Sief had already mentioned that they would be traveling via Chimeras, it made her glad she had packed the work clothing for those tasks where a Priestess? attire wasn?t suitable. She put her stuff away and then took the time to double check the medical supplies. She was not surprised to find that everything was in order.

[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 approaching the Vosper Summit Elaine had changed into her work clothing. White boots with fold down flaps lined with gold trim. White pants that tucked into the boots. Along with a long sleeved, high collar short dress that came down just to the top of her legs, the skirt pleated for freedom of movement. The cape that came down to her knees was a medium blue color. It was fastened in place over to the left just below her shoulder by a gold clasp with a blue stone set in the center.

There was a blue flat wrap around her waist with a two inch leather belt that fastened in place with a plain brass clasp in front. There was a series of chain loops that ran down from the right with leather straps hanging down a bit since they wrapped around and were fastened to similar chains in the back. When the time came, she would have little pouches that carried various medical supplies that would attach to the chains and leather straps.

The outfit was finished off with a band of cloth holding her hair back from her face. Elaine rarely wore her working outfit and as she joined the others, she felt a little self conscious in something other than her Priestess attire. She was still properly covered from head to toe, it just seemed odd to her.

Felix turned from where he was standing next to the pilot of the [I]Ibert[/I]. ?[B]Perfect timing Priestess. We?re about to land.[/B]? He turned back to the pilot and the view of the mountains.

She looked over at Juste who was also ready in his cleric uniform. The only difference was a long strap over his shoulders that lead to a small bag. She had seen him tuck a slender notebook into it so it was probably something he needed for working with the Xear language.

?[B]Do you know how to ride Chimeras?[/B]? She asked him. Juste glanced briefly in her direction and then back to the view of where they were coming into land.

?[B]I?ve ridden a few times,[/B]? he looked back, a look of uncertainty crossing his face. ?[B]It was before I became a cleric so I don?t really remember how.[/B]?

?[B]I haven?t ridden one at all.[/B]? Elaine said softly.

?[B]You don?t have to worry,[/B]? Felix spoke up. ?[B]Jace, one of the men I chose to come with us has worked extensively with Chimeras.[/B]?

Elaine was puzzled. ?[B]I thought he was a guard.[/B]?

?[B]He is. So is Gerald our other escort and Tailem, our pilot. I chose people who have some form of experience.[/B]? Felix explained. ?[B]Tailem will be staying here to keep an eye on the ship.[/B]?

He looked directly at both of them. ?[B]It wouldn?t do to come back and find other groups have messed with our ship.[/B]?

Elaine, upon thinking about it, agreed. It was going to be dangerous enough as it was. Just looking at the mountains from the safety of the ship was intimidating. The Vosper summit had a reputation of being treacherous and looking at the steep slopes and rocky terrain only confirmed what she had heard about it.

She took a seat when the others did as Tailem skillfully brought the ship in to land. As it settled down she couldn?t help but feel grateful that they would be using Chimeras. Even if she didn?t know how to ride them, she couldn?t imagine attempting to climb further up. She was in good shape but it was tiring to simply look at it.

?[B]Alright, go and fetch your packs, as soon as the chimeras are unloaded we?ll be heading out.[/B]? Felix said. [/FONT][/COLOR]

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[SIZE="1"]The reek of antiseptics caused Dawlish to purse his lips in discomfort for a moment. He had never been an aficionado of hospitals, their recycled air, the vague sensation of pain and death that permeated the buildings structure even from the outside, strangled cries from the dying and those with the fortune to live on. Perhaps it was simply memories of triage during the Czenovian military actions he?d been part of. Even without explicit medical training his knowledge of alchemy had been enough for him to be drafted into aiding the medical corps. Too many times had a random soldier clawed at his labcoat begging for release and leaving only a bloody handprint as evidence he had lived at all. Dawlish hated it; with a cold fury he hated it all.

News of his Uncle had reached him minutes after the event; though he was not on good terms with several members of his family he still retained enough contacts to get word of important happenings as quickly as those who remained well thought-of. When it became public knowledge Leonhart had becoming hospitalised the effect on Magitech?s stock would be at least a five percept drop in value. Fontleroy was a vaguely competent secretary and aide to his father, but the idea of him actually taking over from the legendary alchemist was enough to make even the steeliest supporter think about the value of his portfolio. More than once he?d been approached by board members quietly about reinvesting to the value of his father?s former holdings in the company, perhaps in the current climate it was an idea worth mulling over.

His face was recognisable enough now to the general public that the nurses began to whisper to one another even before he reached the reception desk. It would still be a few minutes before journalists and paparazzi arrived looking for the scoop of the day, so he could afford to be amiable. Of the trio present he picked out the youngest to speak to, she was a pretty young thing, probably no older than her early twenties; her face still bore a touch of adolescence and framed with blond curls cut in the latest trend. He flashed her a small smile and watched with a contented amusement as her cheeks burned with embarrassment at his attention.

[B]?Good afternoon, I?m looking for Leonhart Almagest?s room I was wondering if you could help me??

?Mister Almagest sir, your uncle is on the fourth floor of the Celsius Wing room 14, his wife and a number of others accompanied him. ?

?Thank you miss???

?Pe?Penelope sir.?
[/B]
She blushed even further.

[B]?Ah such a lovely name. Thank you for your help my dear.?[/B]

He strode off in mild satisfaction. Yes he loved Esther with all his heart, but even a man in love needed to be reminded every once in a while that he is desirable to others. The Celsius Wing of Eshe Rehema as obvious from its name had come from Dawlish?s great-grandfather and the patron father of all alchemists. The Almagest Trust a fund for charity work within Czenovia had been very generous to the hospital over the years and as such they probably enjoyed better treatment standards than most of the populace. The heavy oak doors were off-set by gleaming brass. Dawlish paused for a moment, almost hesitant to see Leonhart in an unfit state, it seemed almost disrespectful. He pushed the thought out of his mind before striding inside.

[B]?Well you?ve certainly looked better.?
[/B]
His uncle merely frowned at the comment before waving it off.

[B]?I suppose all you?ve come here to do is make jokes. I?d have assumed a man with a company as large as yours Dawlish would be busy working.?[/B]

Chuckling Dawlish set himself down in the chair next to his uncle?s bed before steepling his fingers in front his face.

[B]?I must admit uncle I never thought you?d be so foolish.? His tone was serious the good natured banter between the two was over for the moment. ?Going after Xear technology, knowing what it did to the Xear themselves and nearly to us is a lapse I never expected of you.?[/B]

Leonhart?s frown deepened his jaw clenching slightly.
[B]
?The final fate of the Xear is nothing more than speculation and rumour Dawlish, and as for the cannon that was the result of it being left in unsafe hands.?

?You mean non-Almagest hands.?[/B]

It wasn?t a question.
[B]
?I take it as you know so much you also know that Primas has involved the military as well in the matter, it has moved somewhat beyond my complete control.?

?More than aware uncle, I was contacted about it by the Air-Marshal himself this morning about my involvement in this ?treasonous affair? as he called it. It seemed after three years and my resignation he still holds me in poor esteem. ?[/B]

[B]?Probably for selling weapons to the Anovans.?[/B] His uncle quipped.
[B]
?I see your humour hasn?t left you. Either way I came to warn you; my sources within the military have informed me there?s a growing distrust for our family within the higher-ups, probably down to Deacon?s work but I can?t be utterly sure. One thing I do know for certain is I have been labelled as a potential security risk and they?ve dispatched a member of Military Intelligence Division 6 to monitor my activities and you and the rest of the family may be next.?[/B]

His uncle locked eyes with him for a moment.
[B]
?MID6 ? Have you been doing anything to warrant their interest??

?No and that?s what worries me, if they should decide my loyalties have diluted sufficiently I have no doubts I may meet with an unfortunate accident."
[/B]
[B]?Alchemist killers.?[/B]
[B]
?A crude term but yes MID6 specialises in dealing with alchemists that have become a threat to the state. Many of their members are former alchemists whose military abilities were superior to their alchemical skills.? [/B]

He stood up from the chair staring out the window for a moment before moving for the door. Turning he gave his uncle a final glance.

[B]? Be safe uncle I?ll try to keep you informed of what?s going on.?[/B]

[B]?Thank you Dawlish.?[/B][/SIZE][/INDENT]

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[COLOR="DarkOrchid"][FONT="Times New Roman"]"But Miss Almagest, the ship departs within the hour. Bavaria has expressly requested-"

"You mean demanded. Now shoo. Stop letting Bavaria use you as a sock puppet."

[i]Much to the annoyance of her former step-mother and the military delegates who had sent an express courier for her once already, Macey Ellen had brushed aside their warnings to make her way to the hospital room that belonged to her father. She could catch up with the ship easily enough with a private yacht, and her luggage had already been loaded, save her medical bag, which was clasped firmly in her hand, giving her an excuse to brush past several security guards and nurses. Although to the nurses' credit, the vast majority of them recognized her from her numerous visits to give lectures on the principles of bio alchemy's applications to surgery.

As expected, the final set of doors opened to reveal Dwalish heading out. Macey paused and gave him one of those courtly flicks of her head and skirt.[/i]

"Cousin Dwalish."

"Macey, come to check on Leonhart?"

"More or less. Here's hoping some incompetent twit didn't turn his chest inside out or something during the surgery."

[i]Dwalish blinked owlishly, then smirked and gave her a fiendish smile.[/i]

"Well he looked fine, but it is your field, not mine."

"How good of you to recognize that. Speaking of fields, I was wondering if you had something small and fast for me to borrow. The expedition ship will have left without me by now."

"I see showing up fashionably late runs in the family."

"And it doesn't skip a generation."

[i]Dwalish slipped her a fold of paper and winked conspiratorially.[/i]

"Tell the cap to go to this address. Once there just tell them you're my cousin and my men will take care of everything."

"You're a dear."

[i]Macey winked back, then waved. She slipped the paper into the pocket of her jacket, then flung open Leonhart's door. He looked up from a file he was reading and smiled. Macey returned the gesture, then set down her bag and walked purposefully towards her father.[/i]

"Going to open me up and double check everything?"

"No need for such crude methods. I just need to poke you a bit."

"If you damage those stitches my dear, I won't be very-"

"Oh relax."

[i]She leaned down to the exposed area of his chest, freshly shaved and bandaged. With one hand, she tapped very lightly on the space just above the wound, then to the left and right. As she did, she slowed her breathing just a little, and her eyes went out of focus. Then she stopped, and pulled her hand back, satisfied.[/i]

"Well?"

"It appears my lectures had some impact on the doctors here. Your heart's going to be just fine."

"Lovely. I take it Dwalish outfitted you with a private schooner of some kind to catch up with Bavaria and crew?"

"Yacht actually. It should be wonderful. I'll take a picture of her face when she realizes she didn't manage to leave me behind."

"You're a darling."

[i]Macey kissed her father's forehead congenially, then headed out the door, out of the hospital, and hailed a cab. Passing him the address, she sat back and smiled thinly. While the afternoon wasn't progressing as planned, it was turning out to be more fun than she'd expected.[/i][/FONT][/COLOR]

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[size=1][indent][center][img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Elaine_Waltier.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Felix_Achard.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Juste_Achard.jpg[/img][/center]
Elaine shivered softly as she turned her back towards the Ibert, resting many miles below at the bottom of the snow-covered valley. She knew that the Vosper Summit was going to be cold, but she wasn’t prepared for anything like this. Stray bits of ice blew into her face and hair, making it nearly impossible for Elaine to see. She clutched tightly onto her chimaera, a round horned mount with a thick shaggy coat, and followed closely behind Jace’s lead.

Although she had traveled throughout the globe, it was often in the comfort of an airship or some other kind of transport. For Elaine to be exposed to such harsh elements, especially in such an infamous mountain range, was nothing short of startling. Still, Elaine knew that as difficult as the chimaera ride would be for her, it would be that much harder for Juste.

“[b]Are-- are you going to be alright Priestess?[/b]” Juste asked from behind, his voice getting lost beneath the howl of the wind, “[b]If you’d like you can use my heavy coat.[/b]”

She shook her head, “[b]That won’t be necessary, but that is a very kind offer. Honestly I’m more worried about the chimaera.[/b]”

Kace let out a hearty laugh from ahead, “[b]Don’t be! These beasts were bred as pack animals for regions like this. We should be more worried about ourselves if we get caught up in the storm.[/b]”

“[b]A storm?[/b]” Elaine asked, looking up to the thick clouds above her. It was true that the sky was filled with a thick shade of gray, obscuring the stars above, but the light snowfall they had experienced so far had already been bothersome as it is.

“[b]Can’t you feel it in the air?[/b]” Felix asked, “[b]This is only the beginning of it. We’re lucky the engines didn’t frost over when we were trying to land the airship.[/b]”

“[b]I didn’t realize that was even an option,[/b]” Juste commented nervously.

“[b]Trust me. It wouldn’t have made it any easier if I had warned you. Exactly how much further until we reach our destination?[/b]”

“[b]I’m… honestly not quite sure. Once we make it over the next hill we will rest and try to discern our exact location in relations to the map.[/b]”

“[b][i]Discern our location?[/i] How can we be lost already?[/b]”

“[b]Once we approached this region my instruments stopped working entirely. The truth is we don’t know if we’re a few kilometers, or several dozen from where we need to be.-[/b]”

Juste turned to Elaine. She paused for a moment before motioning ahead.


[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]

Lady Bavaria sat calmly in co-pilot’s seat of [i]The Maria[/i], as Colonel Tallis piloted the vessel over the flats of the Czenovian farmlands. It had only been a few short hours since Leonhart was admitted into surgery, and although she was worried for his health she knew that this mission was still his first priority. To leave Czenovia in the middle of her campaign for Prime Minister was… inconvenient, to say the least, but she had learned long ago from her father that her nation came first.

She reached for a handkerchief from her coat pocket when suddenly the ship became to shake wildly. Bavaria grabbed tightly onto the arms of the chair.

“[b]Just some light turbulence Lady Bavaria. With an airship this small we’re bound to get caught up in some of the stronger winds.[/b]”

“[b]Very well![/b]” she huffed, “[b]Do try to be careful.[/b]”

Colonel Tallis nodded, and he leaned in slowly as to lower the ship’s altitude. Harrison and Ivan entered the cabin, hanging onto a set of overheard railings to as to maintain their balance during the incline.

“[b]How much longer before we meet with Macey Ellen, sir?[/b]” Harrison asked.

“[b]We’ve just received word from her yacht. We’ll rendezvous outside of Brigit Town in approximately one hour.[/b]”

“[b]Yes sir, but it seems like such a waste of time to pick her up. I’m sure you and I are more than capable of recovering an artifact ourselves.[/b]”

Harrison sent a cursory glance to both Ivan and Lady Bavaria. Although he had no personal animosity towards his nephew, he found the idea of dragging along an untrained teenager and an aristocrat preposterous.

“[b]Please don’t be so hasty to judge young man,[/b]” Bavaria replied coldly, “[b]Although you Almagests may dislike me due to some bizarre devotion to your former maid, my travels have made me some very powerful allies, and an expert on foreign cultures. More importantly, if a Czenovian military of Almagest craft were to enter Anovan airspace others might grow wise to what we are doing.[/b]”

He balked, “[b]And you don’t think that Lady Bavaria’s private airship won’t raise red flags as well?[/b]”

“[b]Perhaps if that were public knowledge, yes. But this craft, like hundreds of others across the Globe, are named to my sister, Morphia Markham and Artemis Air Transports. As far as the Anovan government will know, we’re merely a group of travelers on a pleasure cruise.[/b]”

The young man rolled his eyes, and immediately left the cabin. Colonel Tallis rose from his seat, “[b]Lady Bavaria, if you would please take the helm while I speak to First Lieutenant Almagest in private.[/b]”

“[b]But of course Colonel,[/b]” she replied as she took command of the ship, “[b]Feel free to take your time.[/b]”

Ivan looked at Bavaria curiously as the Colonel exited the cabin to follow Harrison, “[b]Harrison’s not going to get in too much trouble, is he? He was only being honest.[/b]”

“[b]And that is a quality I value highly. However, it seems the one lesson Harrison hasn’t yet learned in the military is to control the infamous Almagest temper.[/b]”

Ivan let out a soft sigh, “[b]Or, maybe it’s just you Lady Bavaria.[/b]”


[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]

As their party continued to travel across the Vosper Summit Juste began to feel his fingers numbing. It had been several hours of intense climbing and as far as he knew they were no closer to their destination than when they had first set off. The stories Juste had read about the mountain range were all true: in darkness the white snow and thick cloud cover made it impossible to tell one mountain apart from the others. He only hoped that they were making progress; the one thing he was certain of was that Elaine would not stop her search until they found the artifact.

The group reached the crest of one of the larger hills, and they stopped momentarily so that Jace could feed the chimaera. Before them was an enormous canyon, the bottom of which was shrouded by a thick fog, behind them, the rocky terrain they had been climbing on for hours. Juste set his pack near the crest of the hill as he sat down and looked over his instruments once more. His compass was spinning wildly, and the others weren’t reacting at all.

“[b]How are you holding up?[/b]” Felix asked.

“[b]Freezing, but I’ll be fine,[/b]” Juste replied, rubbing his arms to generate some warmth, “[b]What about you?[/b]”

“[b]I’ve been through worse. I only wish the Priestess would accept my coat. She can’t be comfortable in that….[/b]”

It was then that the light snowfall from overheard suddenly became worse. Large pieces of hail began to fall from the sky as thunder started to boom over the horizon, startling the chimaera enough to knock Jace to his feet.

“[b]Jace![/b]” Elaine called out as she rushed to his side.

Juste attempted to rise, but immediately lost his footing beneath the ice. He felt himself slip backwards towards the canyon, “[b]Umm… uh-oh.[/b]”

Felix immediately grabbed hold of Juste’s arm, but soon lost his footing as well. In an instant both were sent tumbling against the side of the hill into the thick fog of the canyon. Felix held tightly onto Juste as they smashed against the cliff face repeatedly; knocking both unconscious….

All Juste could think of when he awoke was how sore he was. Although his vision was slightly blurred, he could clearly see Felix laying beside him regaining conciousness, as badly bruised as he himself must have been. He looked up towards the sky; they had fallen so far that he couldn’t even see the top of the cliff, only fog. But he saw something else directly overhead: trees. In fact, as he looked out before him there were thousands of them, a thick jungle canopy which must have helped to break their fall. He slowly, and painfully rose to his feet to survey the area before him.

Somehow in the middle of the Vosper Summit he and Felix had stumbled upon a tropical jungle. [i]But how was this possible?[/i][/indent][/size]

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[FONT=Arial][center][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Felix_Achard.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Juste_Achard.jpg[/IMG][/center]
[/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] Felix blinked is eyes a few time to focus. Juste kneeled over him snapping his fingers. After a few moments he realized he couldn’t focus due to the fact that blood was flowing into one of his eyes. This added to the mixed pains from all over his body made Felix just want to lose [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=navy]consciousness[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] again and sleep until the pain was gone. Felix sighed and grabbed Juste’s hand to stop his snapping. Felix went to sit up but Juste put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down.[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]

“You shouldn’t rush up coz. You have a nasty bump on your head. I am not doctor or anything, but it doesn’t look like you need to be stitched up.”[/B] Juste said taking his hand back.[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]

“That is good enough for me.”[/B] Felix replied sitting up. He paused looking around wide-eyed at the new, more tropical, surroundings.[B] “Where are we?”[/B][/COLOR][/FONT]

[FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]Juste shrugged and looked around. [B]“A jungle of some sort, inside Vosper Summit. ”[/B][/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]

Felix nodded. [B]"And what are those?"[/B][/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]He pointed out to several large pointed metal spires that stood above the trees at certain points.[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]

“I honestly cannot say. Maybe ruins of some old civilization that lived here, I have never read anything about it though.”[/B][/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]

Felix grunted at Juste's reply and started to get up. Juste rose and gave him a hand to his feet[/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]. It was then when Felix felt his sweat. The temperature must have risen a few dozen degrees because his undershirt felt soaked. He stripped his heavy coat and half expected steam to hiss out when he did. He sat it down on the ground and started stripping off his other layers. Juste seeing this followed in suit. When they were done Felix sat in his beige battle dress uniform with the sleeves rolled up.[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]

He then began checking the packs to see what they had with them. They had enough, it wouldn’t have hurt to have fallen with the saddle bags, but Felix had enough on him to keep him running for a few days, less with Juste, but he could ration it out. Juste’s pack was a different story. Books mostly, a few smaller instruments, most of which were broken in the fall, but some of them could be salvaged for tools if they need them. What Felix had been most elated to find was his rifle and saber had survived the fall with minor nicks and scratches.[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]

By the time Felix had gone through the packs and repacked them according to what they needed and could use, it had been a few hours. Juste insisted they bandage his forehead, so he had some gauze and a strip of fabric ripped from the lining of one of the heavy coats wrapped around his head. [/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]

He rose to his feet, Juste with him, and handed him one of the packs. [B]“We are heading for higher ground.”[/B][/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]

“Wouldn’t it be smarter to wait here, for the others to find us?”[/B] Juste asked reluctantly slinging the pack over his shoulders.[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]

Felix gave Juste a look and then glanced up the rock face they fell down from. [B]“I don’t think they will be coming the same way we did. At least I hope they aren’t. Besides, how else are we going to find out what those spires are for?” [/B][/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]

Felix swung his pack onto his back, picked up his rifle, and buckled his saber to his belt. He then paused thinking and pulled a holstered pistol from his pack and handed it to Juste.[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]

“What is this for?”[/B] He asked as he took the gun and tried to figure out how to fasten it to his belt.[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]

“A precaution. I am the only one guarding you and I would rather be safe than sorry. Stay close.”[/B] Felix replied.[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy] [/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]

They both then departed into the forest to the closest spire.[/COLOR]
[/FONT] [FONT=Arial] [/FONT]

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Lady Bavaria calmly watched Harrison storm off after snapping at her. As much as she wanted to say something, she did not. It had been three years and yet she had been unable to mend the gap that had come between her and some of the other Almagests. There were some things that being a diplomat couldn?t cure.

It was her job to smooth relations between countries and she had at least been able to mend the difference between Alecia, Alexander, Catherine and herself. Mainly because they had been mature enough to look back and see that they were allowing their emotions to get the better of them.

Something, if she was honest with herself, she had done as well. Lady Bavaria did not regret ordering Anna to leave Rosengard, but she was at least a little willing to admit that doing so in such a public manner had damaged her relationship with the others.

?[B]Lady Bavaria.[/B]?

She turned to find the Colonel approaching and she wondered if he had overheard the exchange between her and Harrison. ?[B]Colonel Tallis. I trust everything is ready for the trip?[/B]?

?[B]It is.[/B]? He replied. ?[B]It seems that Macey Almagest will be joining us just outside Brigit Town since she?s insisting on visiting Leonhart first.[/B]? He looked in the direction that Harrison had taken. ?[B]Once I take care of something, we?ll get going.[/B]?

?[B]Wait Colonel Tallis.[/B]? Bavaria waited for him to look back. ?[B]I?d like to ask a favor of you.[/B]?

?[B]What did you need?[/B]? He asked. She explained what had happened.

?[B]I?ll take care of that, we don?t need more shameful displays like that.[/B]? He nodded grimly. ?[B]I?ll do that right now in fact.[/B]?

She raised her hand and he stopped. ?[B]Colonel, it was not shameful, just inexperienced. Harrison has yet to learn what needs to be addressed and what doesn?t.[/B]? She said firmly. ?[B]If he has genuine concerns, that?s something to be brought up with you, as is proper. And though there is some truth to what he says, sometimes it?s best to leave certain things alone.[/B]?

He gave her a peculiar look. ?[B]What would you have me do then?[/B]?

?[B]Talk to him. What he thinks of me is not important. What is important is that such bluntness and talking back, even if he has a point, will end up hurting his career. Help him to understand that there is a time and place for certain things.[/B]?

Colonel Tallis nodded, his expression softened. ?[B]I understand Lady Bavaria, you have my assurances that I?ll make sure he understands how important it is to not allow personal feelings interfere with his sworn duty.[/B]?

?[B]Thank you Colonel.[/B]? She watched him head down the corridor of the small airship.

If she couldn?t have Harrison?s friendship, she would at least do what she could to ensure his success as an officer in the military. It was what a diplomat was best at. Doing what they could to keep things running smoothly regardless of how it affected their personal lives. That was another lesson she had learned from her father.

[CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Harrison_Almagest.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
This was going to be a long trip, Harrison could already tell as he stormed off from the cockpit of [I]The Maria[/I]. He wondered what had been going through Leonhart?s mind to posses him to consider taking someone like Ivan and Macey along for a trip to find some Xear artifact. A trip like that would have been better handled by the Military from the beginning.

Ivan had no experience or training at all, Leonhart was, to be blunt, too old for such trips and his recent heart attack was proof of that, the fool was lucky it had happened now instead of during the trip. Without immediate medical care, he would have died.

Probably the only one who was in a position to be gallivanting about was Macey. But now, thanks to the old man being sick, he was stuck with Lady Bavaria and once Macey came aboard? [I]That?s going to be interesting.[/I] Out of all of Leonheart?s children and other relatives, she hated Bavaria the most.

He didn?t like her but his objection was that she was a diplomat, not an explorer. Macey on the other hand, loathed her more than he did. Harrison sighed before slamming his fist into the bulkhead of the ship.

?[B]First Lt. Almagest.[/B]? A voice said sharply from behind him, the tone making him wince.[I] Oh hell. [/I]

He turned and cringed inwardly at the look of disapproval on Colonel Tallis?s face. [I]That bitch must have complained,[/I] he thought uncharitably as he snapped to attention and attempted to keep his feelings from showing.

?[B]Yes sir?[/B]? He said woodenly.

?[B]Care to explain why you?re behaving like a Cadet?[/B]?

?[B]Sir?[/B]? He looked at him in disbelief and then snapped. ?[B]Surely you jest![/B]? He exclaimed. Harrison gestured towards the cockpit with his right hand in an angry manner. ?[B]She doesn?t belong here and you know it![/B]?

?[B]Did I ask for your opinion?[/B]? Tallis said sharply.

Harrison flushed, taken aback. ?[B]No sir, you did not.[/B]? He lowered his arm. ?[B]I?m sorry sir, it won?t happen again.[/B]" He looked down at the floor.

?[B]Harrison,[/B]? He looked back up. ?[B]Whether or not you think she should be here is irrelevant. You?ve been given an order by the Dynast to assist with this expedition. That includes working with the people assigned to it. Do you honestly think you?re in a position to judge who is capable or not?[/B]?

Harrison flushed again, feeling really stupid. ?[B]No sir. I?m sorry sir.?[/B]

?[B]Good, keep that in mind.[/B]? Colonel Tallis said sternly. ?[B]As an officer you are going to have assignments that make no sense, and you [I]will [/I]be asked to work with people you don?t like. Unless you genuinely feel that their presence will comprise the mission, then you need to keep your mouth shut and do your job.[/B]?

Harrison nodded. ?[B]I understand sir.[/B]?

Tallis nodded in return. ?[B]Excellent. Now, let?s go and pick up Macey Almagest.[/B]? The Colonel grinned wryly. ?[B]I understand those two don?t get along at all.[/B]?

Harrison grimaced. ?[B]You have no idea sir.[/B]?

?[B]Oh?[/B]? His eyebrow shot up. ?[B]In that case I expect you to do your best to head off any hostility between the two. You know Macey Almagest better than I do.[/B]?

Harrison sighed slightly. ?[B]I don?t know about that sir, but I?ll do what I can.[/B]?

?[B]See that you do, we don?t want this mission to fail because of personal disagreements that have no place here.[/B]?

Harrison nodded again. ?[B]Yes sir.[/B]? He watched the Colonel turn and head back to the cockpit of the airship. Gods, it was going to be a long trip. He sighed again. [/COLOR][/SIZE]

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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/edith_grimoire.jpg[/img][/center]

[font=garamond][size=4][right][B]Ancient Symbols[/B][/right][/font][/size]

[font=palatino linotype]The dining room was dark and gloomy, its walls enveloped in a luxurious wallpaper that was peppered with dust. The curtains were drawn. Large portraits punctuated the walls; each of these characters seemed to stare down at Gustave and Victoria, who sat together at one end of a long dining table. Each held a small cup of tea, which they were sipping tepidly.

Victoria blinked as she examined her tea cup. ?Why is it so dark in here? It?s still day time outside.?

?I?m really not sure,? shrugged Gustave. ?Don?t worry though, we won?t be staying long. We must finish our tea; after all, Edith was kind enough to provide it.?

Kindness was not something Victoria associated with Edith. They had only briefly met and once her guests had been ushered into the dining room, Edith promptly disappeared.

?Well I think it?s very rude to just leave us here by ourselves,? huffed Victoria. ?I thought adults were supposed to set good examples??

Gustave chuckled. ?You?re right, it is rude. But then again, our airship [i]did[/i] crash in her backyard.?

?Well we were [i]in[/i] the airship. We could have died. I still think she?s rude??

Victoria's youth may have been responsible for her relatively naive view of the world, but at the same time, she was unburdened by the need to save face or to uphold a jingoistic loyalty - certainly this sharpened her perspective at times.

The doors at the end of the dining room swung open rather suddenly and although the hallway beyond was lit, this did not make the dining room any warmer.

Edith stood in the doorway, her silhouette bordered by its frame.

'Enjoying your tea?' Her voice was airy and light, yet somehow implied that a wrong answer would be judged harshly. At least, that is how the two guests felt.

'Very much,' replied Gustave with a smile that was barely visible in the darkened room. He was not merely being polite; the tea was, in fact, some of the finest he'd had. It reminded him, though, that a large part of enjoying one's tea involved the pleasantness of his surroundings.

'Good,' said Edith. 'Actually, I have a request for you.'

Gustave and Victoria shared a surprised glance. 'Oh?'

Edith's silhouette grew as she stepped into the room.

'As my backyard shall likely be in ruins for several weeks, the least you can do is a small favor. If you can help me to solve a riddle, I will also pay for what's left of your ship to be transported to...well, wherever it needs to go. I assume you'll want to repair her?'

Gustave rose to his feet. 'If she's repairable, yes. Very much so. What's the favor?'

For a brief moment, Edith paused. Gustave was sure he could hear her muttering something under her breath, but it was very faint.

'I need you to visit the State Library in town. I have some symbols to show you and I want further information on their origin.'

Gustave's eyes widened. Why on Earth would Edith ask such a simple request? After all, the cost of transporting a highly damaged airship - especially by land - would be enormous. It could require several specialized streamtrucks at the very least.

Perhaps sensing Gustave's confusion, Edith spoke again.

'I have many books on many subjects,' she said cautiously, 'but very few on ancient symbols. I do believe that these symbols are of ancient origin, but I can not say how they appeared on my latest clothing designs. Nobody can. It is the first time in our history that we have experienced something like this. Only the State Library of Anova would carry enough information to make it worth investigating there. It is quite urgent - the show begins tomorrow...and I must know before then...'

Just as Gustave was about to accept the proposal, Victoria spoke up. 'So all you want us to do is visit a library? That's it? Why don't you--'

'Because,' interrupted Edith, 'I rarely leave this place.' Her voice became somehow different, her silhouette more imposing. 'I...am not accustomed to...that is to say...'

Again, she paused, apparently speechless. Victoria felt a shiver creep down her spine - surely embarrassing someone like Edith would upset her greatly. Even the thought of Edith raising her voice frightened Victoria.

Surprisingly, Edith did not become angry. Her voice softened. 'Please,' she sighed, 'I must know what these symbols are. If you can return here later tonight with an answer, I will be in your debt.'

And with that, Edith swept out of the room, leaving Gustave and Victoria speechless.

Victoria looked up at Gustave thoughtfully. 'We should do it,' she said with apparent resolve.

Gustave laughed quietly. 'Really? I didn't think you'd want to be running errands for a dragon like her.'

Victoria shook her head slowly. 'No, it's just...something is wrong. She seems really worried. And the last time we dealt with strange symbols it was...'

'A catastrophe,' whispered Gustave. 'But surely this is very different to what happened in those tunnels under Czenovia three years ago.'

'Probably,' replied Victoria, 'but Edith said that these symbols came out of nowhere. She may be many things, but I can't imagine she would normally worry about something like that... and I have a feeling she wouldn't lie to us either... she has no reason to.'

These were all things Gustave had sensed as well, but he was again surprised by Victoria's perception. So far, she seemed to have read Edith very well. And perhaps, deep down, she had some sympathy for the woman. It was admittedly strange, after all, to see such a strong figure become confused and slightly paranoid. There must have been more to it.

Gustave checked his pocket watch. 'Well, it's already afternoon...we should leave immediately. I will use Edith's phone and call a steamcar from Achard Hall. That will take us into the city.'

'Right,' said Victoria, 'this could actually be fun! It's like a treasure hunt.'

'Heh, you say that now,' replied Gustave calmly, 'but wait until you see the State Library. You may change your mind.'[/indent][/font]

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[center][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Felix_Achard.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Juste_Achard.jpg[/IMG][/center]
Juste didn?t miss the cold, but in no time, the tropical heat had him sweating and he shifted his pack so he could remove the knee length cape of his cleric uniform. He added it to the bundle that was his heavier coat and continued on with Felix.

It was hard to keep up since he had no training like the guards did. Juste was fit, but the uneven terrain, hot humid temperature and lingering dizziness from the fall were working against him. It didn?t help that they kept running into all sorts of wild animals.

Some of them he knew were harmless but others, he had never seen before. It kept him on edge and the constant vigilance was wearing him out. Felix seemed to be unconcerned but Juste imagined it was because he at least knew what was dangerous and what was not.

Also, Felix knew how to use that saber and gun of his where Juste had no idea how to use the gun he had been given. He knew the principle behind it, but he had never handled or fired one before. Most clerics hadn?t. There wasn?t a need for them to know how.

He motioned to Felix that he needed to pause for a moment. Felix obliged him while he leaned against one of the trees to catch his breath. ?[B]Do you think the others are okay?[/B]? He asked Felix once he had rested for a few minutes.

?[B]There?s no need to worry,[/B]? Felix assured him. ?[B]Jace and Gerald will see to the Priestess? safety.[/B]?

Juste took another deep breath and nodded before he straightened up and pushed away from the tree he had been resting against. ?[B]I hope we find them soon.[/B]?

He didn?t want to be stuck in this place and didn?t bother to voice the concern that there was no way out of the valley they had fallen into. There had to be a spot that wasn?t a cliff so people could leave. So far, all they had seen was nothing but more and more trees. The only thing he could clearly see was the metal spires sticking up above the trees.

?[B]Don?t worry, we will.[/B]? Felix said confidently.

?[B]How can you be so sure?[/B]?

?[B]I?m not.[/B]? He replied. ?[B]But there is no point in worrying over something like that. Right now we need to focus on where we are and finding a means to figure out which direction they?ll come from.[/B]?

How they were going to do that with their instruments broken Juste didn?t know but he was sure Felix would figure it out. He shook his head a bit and focused on the metal spire they were approaching instead. It was easily the same size as several tree trunks at the base. It slowly tapered off and narrowed as it reached towards the sky.

There was something odd about it that he couldn?t quite make out as they approached. It wasn?t until they were almost upon it that he realized what it was. There were circular rings of symbols engraved into the metal. Three rows of them about a foot apart at the base. A few more steps and he stopped, staring at them in surprise.

?[B]What is it cousin?[/B]? Felix asked when he realized Juste had come to a halt.

?[B]Those symbols?[/B]? He looked from the metal spire over to where Felix was standing. ?[B]They?re in the language of the Xear.[/B]?

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[COLOR="RoyalBlue"][FONT="Lucida Sans Unicode"][CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Elaine_Waltier.jpg[/IMG] [/CENTER]
Elaine was checking Jace to see if he was hurt when she heard Juste utter the phrase uh-oh. Something about the tone caught her attention and she turned sharply, still on her knees. She watched as Felix tried to help him only to slip himself and fall as well. It happened so fast that they were over the edge before she was even halfway up in an attempt to assist them.

She was brought up short when her coat caught in something and she looked back to see what it was. Jace had a hold of it and he was shaking his head at her as he got to his feet. Elaine tried to pull her coat free but he wouldn?t let go.

?[B]Let go Jace![/B]?

?[B]No Priestess,[/B]? He said sternly. ?[B]It?s too dangerous.[/B]?

?[B]But.[/B]? She started to protest.

?[B]No buts.[/B]? He steadied himself. ?[B]We won?t do them any good if we fall and land on top of them. Give us a moment to check and then we?ll decide what to do.[/B]?

She looked at him for a moment and then nodded reluctantly. ?[B]Very well.[/B]? Elaine started to take a deep breath and stopped herself, remembering at the last moment that doing so in such cold temperatures wasn?t a good idea.

There was nothing for her to do other than to check their packs as Jace gathered the Chimeras and Gerald carefully checked the edge of the canyon that the two had fallen into. His expression was grim when he finally returned to the group.

?[B]The fog makes it impossible to see the bottom and the side of the canyon is covered in ice. We do have some rope for climbing, but if the drop is too far, climbing back up would be troublesome.[/B]? Gerald explained.

?[B]What do you suggest?[/B]? Elaine asked. ?[B]Even if?[/B]? She choked a little at the thought of them being dead. It was possible they had landed in snow and were fine; she pushed the thought back, until she knew for sure she wouldn?t accept it.

Gerald looked briefly at Jace and then back to her, none of them willing to voice what they each had to be thinking. He pulled out the map they were supposed to be using and held it so the others could see it.

?[B]I think we are here.[/B]? He pointed to the map. ?[B]If we follow the edge of the canyon here it looks like it gradually goes down to the valley floor. Once we?re there we can backtrack to where they fell.[/B]?

?[B]But that will take hours.[/B]? Elaine bit back her frustration. If they weren?t dead, they could be seriously hurt and the longer they took to get there? ?[B]Alright, let?s get going.[/B]?

There was nothing she could do to make things go quicker. Jace had tethered up the Chimeras that Felix and Juste had been riding and they followed along, unbothered by the sudden change. Gerald was taking the lead while Jace brought up the rear.

It seemed to take forever to follow the edge of the canyon down. Hours later, it felt like something was off since the climate seemed to be changing drastically. She had to be imagining things; it couldn?t be getting warmer, at least not enough for her to be able to notice it.

But as small patches of earth began to become visible and then the snow vanished as they finally got to the bottom of the canyon and turned to head back in, the sight of tall lush green trees in the distance was even more startling. They couldn?t have traveled down far enough for anything like that to be possible. [I]What in the world is going on?[/I][/FONT][/COLOR]

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[center][img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Belmonda_Achard.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Frederic_Achard.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest/jackavatar.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Natalia_Lockmere.jpg[/img][/center][size=1][indent][i]The Stelmaria’s[/i] engines began to rattle softly as the airship prepared for a horizontal descent onto one of the Vosper Summit’s adjoining hillsides. It was very early in the morning, and as sunlight first touched the snow-covered mountaintops they took on an angelic glow. In the bridge Belmonda and Natalia admired the beauty of the countryside as Jack, piloting the vessek, fiddled around with the various meters and switches before him.

“[b]Do you remember when we would travel with your father to the Alaris Highlands?[/b]” Natalia asked cheerfully, “[b]My mother would bundle us up with as many layers as possible, but by the end of the day we were so warm that the entire hillside was covered with the jackets and scarves we had thrown off.[/b]”

“[b]Yes, that was a long time ago,[/b]” Belmonda said softly, momentarily losing herself in thought, “[b]It’s amazing how much has changed since then.[/b]”

Frederic nodded, “[b]Not everything has changed, though. Family remains a constant.[/b]”

“[b]You’re merely being delusional brother. Neither of us have hardly spoken to Natalia in years. In fact, we only seem to come together for funerals anymore.[/b]”

Natalia sighed. It was true that in recent years she had pulled away from the family more and more. She looked up to Belmonda, only a few years older than herself yet still so accomplished. Still, something was lacking. Since Vincent’s passing she had become callous– cruel even. Natalia didn’t regret how much she had sacrificed for her work, but she as she spent more and more time with Belmonda she began to understand her mother’s insistence that she live a more balanced life.

She stood up to dismiss herself, “[b]Perhaps I should ready the chimaera Frederic. We’ll be landing soon.[/b]”

“[b]That sounds like a fine idea,[/b]” Frederic replied distantly, focusing instead on the airship’s pressure gauge, “[b]Is everything alright Deacon?[/b]”

Jack grimaced, “[b]An airship’s engines rely on superheating the air. Unfortunately that storm we passed through chilled the air to beyond freezing. [i]The Stelmaria[/i] is struggling just to keep us afloat.[/b]”

“[b]Should we be concerned?[/b]” Belmonda replied.

“[b]Of course not,[/b]” he replied with a strained grin, “[b]While my reputation as a spectacular pilot and lover stand precede me, it should also be noted that I’m kind of okay at crashing these things.[/b]”

“[b]This is no time for jokes,[/b]” Frederic said coldly, “[b]Can we land safely or not?[/b]”

“[b]Like I said, landing is not the issue. With our engines freezing like this taking off will be impossible.[/b]”

“[b]So our options are either to strand ourselves in the snow, hours away from the nearest city, or abandon the expedition entirely?[/b]” Belmonda asked incredulously.

“[b]No, love. This girl is going down no matter what. The only choice you have is if you want to fasten yourself in before the—oh crap![/b]”

The ship began to rattle violently back and forth, tossing Belmonda off of her seat and onto the floor. She glared at Jack as he remained transfixed on mountains, which were drawing closer and closer by the second.

“[b]Oh. Yeah. [i]Brace for landing[/i].[/b]”[/size][/indent]

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Victoria Ann held onto the small envelope that had the slip of paper with a copy of the symbols drawn on it. Edith had given it to them shortly before the steamcar had arrived from Achard Hall to take them to the State Library. Victoria Ann had paid little attention to their surroundings as the car took them there; both of them had been checking out the symbols on the paper in an attempt to determine what they were.

There was something oddly familiar about them and Victoria couldn?t shake the feeling that she had seen something similar elsewhere. In fact, she was positive that she had seen them before. When the steamcar came to a halt in front of a huge multi story building, she tucked the paper back into the envelope and then carefully put it in her pocket. Victoria Ann let herself out of the car as Gustave talked to the driver.

?[B]Did you want me to wait for you here sir?[/B]? The driver asked.

Gustave climbed out and closed the back door before addressing the driver who had the front window down. ?[B]I?m not sure how long we?ll be so you may as well head back for now. I?ll call the house when we?re ready to go back.[/B]?

?[B]Very good sir.[/B]? He replied. The window rolled up and moments later the steamcar had left to head back to Archard Hall.

Victoria Ann pulled out her little pocket watch and looked at it. ?[B]It will be dinner time in a few hours.[/B]? She tilted her head to the side a bit as she looked up at Gustave. ?[B]What will we do for dinner?[/B]?

Gustave smiled, ?[B]Just you wait and see.[/B]?

Puzzled, she followed him up the long set of stairs leading to the entrance of the State Library. There were sets of metal railings so many feet apart, and she ran her hand along one of them lightly as she hurried up the steps to the massive wooden doors.

The entire building couldn?t have been much bigger than CHAOS, aside from being three stories high instead of two, and she wondered how Edith thought it was possible for the place to even have what they needed to look up the symbols. The library back in High Czenoble was much bigger, nearly twice as big.

Gustave opened the door and she stepped inside. There was a massive counter up against the closest wall with multiple staff working behind it. The one on the left seemed to be helping people with checking out some books where the one in the middle, a stately older woman dressed in a smart gray dress, was helping someone with directions. There was a third one on the right who was talking to people and then writing something down on a little notepad that she had. There were only three people there now, but it looked like it could easily accommodate a dozen staff at need.

Along the left wall there was a set of stairs that went both up and down, and to the sides of the counter there were glass doors leading into what looked like sections with rows and rows of books. It took Victoria a moment to realize that it was open all the way up where they were standing. There were walkways along the outer edge and she could see people quietly moving along with books in their hands.

?[B]Wow, that?s pretty cool how it?s open like this inside.[/B]? She observed. ?[B]How come the stairs go down though? Is that for the staff?[/B]?

Gustave shook his head. ?[B]No, there is a small section at the rear that is for the staff. The floors underground are part of the main library.[/B]?

?[B]Why?[/B]? She shivered slightly at the thought. ?[B]If they?re below ground, then there won?t be any windows.[/B]?

?[B]Exactly. Some of the oldest books and treasures need to be protected from stray sunlight. Only special lights are allowed down there.[/B]?

?[B]Oh, okay. That makes sense.[/B]? She glanced over to the right and then stared in amazement. ?[B]Is that a restaurant? In a library?[/B]?

She pointed to the section that was floor to ceiling glass with tables situated behind it. There were people in there and she could see servers walking among them with trays in their arms. She had never heard of a restaurant inside of a library.

?[B]That?s right. There is a special section built along the side for the kitchens too.[/B]? Gustave seemed to be enjoying her wide eyed expression of disbelief.

?[B]But why would they have something like that in a library?[/B]? It didn't make sense. "[B]Aren't they worried about the food hurting the books?[/B]"

He smiled as he explained it to her, slowly walking over to the woman behind the counter at the right. ?[B]First of all, no books are allowed inside and you can't bring any food into the main library. So there's no danger of anyone damaging the books. In the beginning it used to be a little coffee shop since so many students would spend hours and hours here to do research for their studies. Over the years it gradually expanded and then about five years ago, a new section was built and added to accommodate the increase in business.[/B]?

Victoria Ann stared at him for a moment. ?[B]You must have a lot of students then.[/B]?

?[B]We do. Lumière Academy has students coming here from all over the globe to study the arts. Even children from Czenovia come here to study.[/B]? He stopped just in front of the counter where the woman on the right was standing.

Gustave turned and pointed to the middle of the glass doors leading into the restaurant. ?[B]If you look closely, you can see that there is an outside balcony with tables as well. When the weather is warm you can have your food outside. It overlooks one of the city gardens and the view when the sun sets is spectacular.[/B]?

He turned back so he was facing the counter. ?[B]I?m going to make reservations for dinner and then we?ll start looking for those symbols.[/B]?

?[B]Okay.[/B]? Victoria Ann waited while he talked to the woman behind the counter. It was clear she knew who he was and a moment later she had written something down on her little notepad. Victoria Ann assumed it was their names.

?[B]Right,[/B]? Gustave said as he came back over to where Victoria was patiently waiting. ?[B]Now, if I remember correctly, all of the books for ancient languages is stored in one of the lower floors.[/B]?

?[B]How many floors are there?[/B]? Victoria asked as they started walking towards the stairs. There was a huge wooden plaque on the wall with a listing of what could be found on each floor. She looked at the list.

?[B]Seven floors total?[/B]? If there was really four underground, then that made the library a lot bigger than the one in High Czenoble. It didn?t have any underground levels, just the one for staff.

?[B]That?s right, seven[I] known[/I] levels.[/B]? Gustave said with a smile. ?[B]It?s rumored that there are secret chambers that even the staff don?t know about.[/B]?

Victoria stared at him before following along as they started down the stairs. ?[B]You?re making that up.[/B]" She finally said when he gave her an amused glance. "[B]How could the staff not know about all of the rooms?[/B]?

Gustave laughed at her serious expression. ?[B]I promise I?m not making it up. Remember how there are tunnels under High Czenoble?[/B]?

?[B]Well yeah, but those were caused by mining.[/B]?

?[B]And they found dangerous things down there right?[/B]? He asked her.

?[B]Yes.[/B]? She had heard about the cannon built by the Xear that the UnderDogs had used. ?[B]But that doesn?t explain how there could be hidden chambers here; unless your country mined under the city here too. Or do you have natural tunnels?[/B]?

The echo of their footsteps became more pronounced the further they went down the stairs. Victoria Ann wondered if anyone was even down in the lower two floors. Since they had left the first two and started on the third set, she hadn?t seen anyone else.

?[B]No, we didn?t mine under Le Monde and there aren't any natural caves or tunnels. The story is that when the library was first built, special chambers to protect the most precious of books and artifacts were made. Over time they either forgot about them or perhaps built shelves in front of the entrances since no one can confirm if they?re real or not.[/B]?

?[B]Why don?t they try and find them then?[/B]?

?[B]Most people think it's just a fairy tale. Also, because you can?t just go tearing up walls and shelves to see if there?s something behind them.[/B]?

?[B]I bet you looked for them when you were a kid though.[/B]? Victoria Ann stared at Gustave accusingly and then grinned when he nodded. ?[B]You didn?t find anything, did you?[/B]?

?[B]Nope.[/B]? He looked away as they came to the bottom of the stairs. ?[B]And you?ll see why in a moment.[/B]? He opened the door leading into the lowest level.

There were rows and rows of tall shelves with books interspaced with tables and chairs for study every so often. To the right of the door as they entered was another desk with an elderly lady sitting behind it. She looked up as they entered the room.

?[B]So that?s why,[/B]? Victoria whispered. ?[B]You didn?t want to get caught.[/B]? She suppressed a giggle at Gustave?s knowing glance. ?[B]Maybe we should show her the symbols, if she works here; she might know what they are.[/B]?[/FONT][/COLOR]

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

Natalia head lay on the book on her father's desk. Facing away from the sun as its rays streaked into the room and down onto the desk. Her arm giving her neck the leverage it needed for her to be comfortable enough to stay sleep.

She makes a few sighs in her sleep as she begins to stir but is too relaxed to open her eyes just yet, and wanting to revel in the darkness behind her eye lids. An unexpected knock at the door jarred her and sent the book and a few other trinkets flying of the desk.

She forgets the knocking for a minute not caring her hair is a mess or heck even the fact that her face may be a mess from her nap and she yawns as she reaches for the papers. The knocking at the study door continuing.

[B]"Damnit all to he-"[/B] The knocking comes once again. [B]"COME IN!"[/B] She yells and returns her face to the floor making sure all the items are at least off the carpet and placed on the desk. Her back to the door as she straightens it up. Calling over her shoulder assuming the guest is her father.

[B]"I'm sorry I messed up your desk. I promise to get it fixed up before I go."[/B]

Her back stays turned as she here's a laugh under her breath. She joins along at little before speaking once again, setting the pins back in their container.

[B]" I must admit, I've been in this book so long that I don't realize when I was truly reading or dreaming of reading."[/B] She continues to giggle amusing herself as she reads back some of the information she learned.

[B]"Father, did you know the Xear have been associated with the region around Mt. Vosper. Although I have not been to the region the breed of chimaera in that region are more lightweight but still very much muscled as well as furred. The extreme climate allowed the breeders there to build an animal that not only suited the altitude but also give their handlers some protection, if needed, from the elements. Those who dared venture to the peaks of the mountain. Though few and far between have even ventured to make chimaera that fly. FLY?! Can you believe that?!"[/B]

A smile stretched over her face as she leaned over the desk, glancing once again the book, turning it towards her and tracing her fingers over the map and even a picture of one of the flying breed of chimaera.

[B]"I would love to see them, not bred, outside of their enviroment, or shown of in front of men, but in their home, the lands they know best."[/B]

[B]"Now THAT is the best news of the day."[/B]

Natalia spun around quickly to notice not her father standing in front of the closed door but her cousin Frederic.

[B]"Wh-what are you doing here?" She moved away from the door and felt a twinge of embarrassment hit her face. "And why didn't you say something.[/B]?

He laughed a little the smile lightening the features of his face, before he entered the room and looked at the book in front of Natalia, she shifted to the side as he read over the brief pages and captions and looked at his face as it changed back to the serious form she's sure has been placed there one too many times lately.

[B]"Are you serious?"[/B]

His change in voice stunned her a little making her forget her thoughts.[B] "Excuse me? What?"[/B]

[B]"Are.. you...serious? Would you like to work with these animals? Natalia, I hear how you are when you speak for them and I know you would be a perfect choice."[/B]

[B]"You mean you're actually going to Mt. Vosper?"[/B]

Frederic nodded at her question and saw her face light up.

[B]"Yes I want to go. When do we leave."[/B]

[CENTER]___________________________________________________[/CENTER]

The little trip down memory lane, soon faded as the distant gaze in Bella's eyes stirred. The now familiar dullness taking over the glow that used to fill Bella?s eyes and the seemingly permanent mask of hatred that was hiding much of the pain that crept in after Vincent?s death.

Natalia just had to smile a little as she turned around, she had to keep telling herself she was here to not only learn more about the world but become more involved with the cousins she loved and missed so much in the past years. Hopefully she could brighten up something in Bella?s eyes.

She moved slowly away from the cabin, knowing the landing may be less than superb but as she moved quickly down the stairs she was not expecting the lurch in the shift, making her grasp the rail. She made it down the last few steps and looked up in the general direction of the bridge muttering about Jack?s landing skills

[B]?I wish he?d just stop being a-? [/B]

Another jump in the airship made Natalia slip against the wall, her head hitting it and making her stand dazed in the hallway she was traveling down. She could only attempt to keep her balance as the ship dipped again throwing her once again into the wall.

Something wasn?t right and she soon learned it was true when she heard the engine. Although not an airship operator she knew the sound was different and feeling the ships current movements she inched herself closer to a door, thinking to use it as a brace as the ship went down, but the thud in her head and her vision blurring made her advancement worse even as slumped against the wall waiting for the ship?s decent to finish.

She curled into the fetal position as she sat against the wall her head still hurting, but she tried to keep herself awake. Her hands on either side trying to keep her upright against the wall, but before anything else occurred she saw nothing but darkness.

[CENTER]___________________________________________________[/CENTER]

[B]?-Talia! NATALIA!? [/B]

The voice grew harsh and even though she was awake, she could not make the face. It sounded like Frederic but she was not sure. She could only try to ignore the thumping as she slowly sat up, dizziness and nausea coming over her as she moved. She paused for a moent as the voice continued to hum into her ear, softer than the ringing in her ear but still making an impact.
[B]
?Wake up Natalia. Look at me.?[/B]

As the nausea subsided she was able to respond.

[B]?You aren?t helping me anymore then the ringing in my ear, so please hush.?[/B]

She managed to look at the person. And saw Frederic squatting next to her as she forced herself to sit up and lean back against the wall. She felt dizzy once again but she kept still and looked at her cousin. His face grimacing a moment before he stood up and just looked down at her.

[B]?Have we landed??[/B] She asked unintentionally harsh sounding as she tasted bile, the taste making her almost gag but her body forcing the taste away.

[B]?Yes. Bella was worried.?[/B]

Natalia only looked on in silence her vision clearing as she saw Frederic look on beside her before she replied.

[B]?I?m fine. Just help me up.?[/B]

Frederic only nodded his bent to help steady Natalia as she rose. She worked with him, her back against the wall and she hoped she wouldn?t fall.

[B]?Is Bella alright??[/B]

He nodded once more as she stood there a moment keeping her balance and happy that the dizziness was clearing between the brief moments of conversation.

[B]?That?s good to hear, and you, no broken bones right??[/B]

[B]"Everyone is present and accounted for." [/B]

[B]?How about the animals??[/B]

[B]?I have not been there yet, I came for you first then we would survey for any damage??[/B]

[B]?I've got to get there then I am sure I can make it from here. I need to go check on them. We may need them in the long run and knowing the bunch we have on our ship they are getting pretty anxious right now.?[/B]

Natalia hugged the wall as Frederic walked behind her her steps faltering now and then but she didn?t fall.

[B]?I am going with you Natalia. Sorry but I am not going to have Bella see you in this condition and yell at me for leaving you.?[/B]

[B]?She wouldn't yell anymore. Not about me. I can assure you of that.? [/B]

Natalia wanted to be funny but she knew the personality in her cousin had changed, and she was tired of hiding it.

[B]?I miss the old Bella.?[/B] Natalia frowned at that statement and Frederic kept moving with her. The silence surrounding them for moment as they moved along. The calls of the trapped animals being heard as they moved closer. [/FONT][/COLOR]

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[FONT="Book Antiqua"][I]The following is an excerpt from the journal of Ivan Francis Almagest.[/I][/FONT]

[FONT="Comic Sans MS"][I]I'm starting this journal on behalf of Leonhart Almagest, who suggested I do so after his hospitalization. He said that this expedition is very important and needs to be documented in some way. He also mentioned that it's a great way to keep my thoughts in order.

I suppose this whole thing started back on the Alania. Damn, was I stupid. I really doubt anyone in the family really wanted to be acquainted with me after how I treated most of them back there. And the fight. I made quite the fool of myself there. Has it really only been a couple of days since then? I haven't given up on Dawlish yet, of course, but I have a lot of training to do. In the meantime, I need to work on my social skills.

Speaking of which, where the hell does Harrison get off? He's the same age as me, and I get the feeling he thinks I'm just dead weight. So what if I don't have any military training? The real learning comes from experience! Still, I've been stuck between the family manor and CHAOS for the past five years, and Father isn't here anymore. I know more than enough, though. I'll show him!

And then there's Lady Bavaria. I'm not sure what I think of her. She seems like a practical person, if a bit cold at times. I get the feeling not many people trust her, though. Then again, I'm not exactly in the circle of trust yet, either. I can probably at least thank myself for part of that. I hear Macey Ellen isn't very fond of her. Harrison said something about expecting some confrontation. He was probably putting it mildly.

That's really about all. Speaking of Macey, though, I think we're scheduled to meet up with her before too long. I guess I should finish up here, then.

Don't think I've given up yet, Dawlish.[/I][/FONT]

[FONT="Garamond"][I][CENTER][SIZE="4"]Ivan[/SIZE][/CENTER][/I][/FONT]

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[COLOR="DarkOrchid"][FONT="Times New Roman"][i]As the private yacht sailed rather serenely through the blindingly clear skies, Macey Ellen adjusted the hemline of her riding skirt, pinned the extra fabric to one side, and then straightened her hat, driving the pin down further into it's clasp embedded in her hair. As the yacht made a lazy turn to the left and the Almagest ship came into view. One of Dwalish's men walked up to her, saluted smartly, despite her gesture and he spoke sharply.[/i]

"We've come up on their vessel, if you like we can drop a zip line or just give you a quick space to jump."

"I'll just jump. A zip line would probably result in something imodest."

"Of course. We'll have someone to hand you off the side."

[i]Macey gathered up her medical bag in one hand and stepped up to the side, taking a firm grip on the tow line that had been strung up for her benefit. In a maneuver as delicate and graceful as any pilot could've dreamed of, the yacht swung around again, then dipped slightly, closing the gap between the two ships to almost only a foot apart. Dawlish's second in command took up her hand and swung her across the ship, clearing the space immediately. Macey gave him a wave, then turned to find Harrison standing right where she'd been hoping to stand, looking bemused. He gave her a slight bow and she curtsied grandly.[/i]

"I see you're finally here. Welcome aboard, such as it is."

"Thank you Harrison. I'm almost happy to be here. Where's our prima dama desperada?"

"You mean Bavaria? She's up on the main deck strutting around snapping orders I think."

"Is anyone listening to her?"

"I...er...ah..."

"I better go say hello to her."

[i]Macey gave him a wink and handed her bag to a nearby crewmember, who walked it to her berth. She stepped up to the deck, fixing the lines of her skirt and readying a smile so wide it almost hurt her face. Bavaria whirled around to glare at Macey with all the warmth and feeling of a glacier advancing down a slope. [/i]

"I see you've made a spectacle of yourself as usual."

"Why Bavaria, who are you doing here?"

[i]Bavaria spluttered as the depth of Macey's insult sunk in and suppressed the urge to shout something indecent at her retreating back. Not bothering to suppress anything, Macey smiled far more realistically and gave a sweet nod and welcoming wave of her hand to Ivan, who was holding a book in one hand and resting his other on a rail. He returned the nod awkwardly and she returned to looking for a crewmember who could show her where she would be sleeping. With luck Bavaria wouldn't have her stabbed in the dead of the night.[/i][/FONT][/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/Belmonda_Achard.jpg[/img] [/center]
It didn't take Frederic long to keep an eye on Natalia as she made her way to where the chimeras were loaded. Once he was certain she was going to be alright, he made his way back to the guest quarters on [I]The Stelmaria[/I]. Just as he had been making sure Natalia was alright, Belmonda, after giving him and Jack Deacon a bit of a glare, had gone off to check their personal supplies.

[I]Perhaps I should have gotten something from the military after all[/I], he wondered as he glanced down the corridor that lead to the engines of [I]The Stelmaria[/I]. By now Jack Deacon had to be down there checking to see if they were still flight worthy. Though if what he said about the air was true, it was possible they wouldn't be able to take off after all.

If that was the case, they'd just use the chimeras to get back to the nearest town or contact the military for assistance. [I]If we have to do that... Bella's gonna chew me out for sure.[/I] He thought grimly. Still it could have been much worse, even if the ship couldn't fly again, at least none of them had been seriously hurt. The chimeras had been skittish, but they too had looked fine.

He hung on to the railings along the corridor since the ship was at a slight angle. It had happened so fast, that he wasn't sure if the scenery he saw of ice had been accurate or not. If it was... It had looked like they were headed for a huge sheet of ice. Frederic put it out of mind, he could worry about that later.

Belmonda was still sorting through the equipment that had been tossed about when the ship crashed when he finally found her. He could tell by the way she was muttering to herself under her breath, that she was obviously still quite irritated. He couldn't fault her though.

"[B]Broken![/B]" She said sharply as she tossed something aside before picking up another item to look it over. She tossed it aside as well. "[B]Broken, broken, broken.[/B]" She muttered.

She was putting stuff that wasn't too damaged in one pile and tossing the stuff that was unusable in another. "[B]I know you're standing there Frederic,[/B]" she said after he had stood there for a brief time. "[B]So stop lurking and give me a hand.[/B]"

"[B]I'm not lurking Bella,[/B]" He shut up when she turned and fixed him with a piercing glare.

"[B]Yes you are,[/B]" She moved back to sorting the equipment and then changed the subject.. "[B]So how is Natalia and the chimera's?[/B]"

"[B]They're alright.[/B]" He mumbled back as he started helping her sort stuff.

"[B]Well that's good.[/B]" Belmonda tossed another item aside, barely missing Frederic, letting him know that she was still quite annoyed with him.

It had been a while since she was that angry with him. "[B]I'm going to go and see how Jack Deacon is doing with the engines.[/B]"

"[B]You do that.[/B]" Belmonda answered shortly. "[B]If we're not going to be able to look for the artifact or whatever it was you said we are looking for, then the sooner we get back to Le Monde, the better.[/B]"

[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]
"[B]So, what's the verdict?[/B]"

Jack Deacon had his hands full and was inside one of the engines, other than a bit of color from his tunic, Frederic couldn't even see him. He hated to admit it, but other than simple stuff, Frederic didn't know much about air ship engines. All of the equipment and machinery that was exposed with the panels off, was a bit of a mystery to him.

"[B]Nothing seems to be too seriously damaged,[/B]" Jack called out from where he was located. "[B]The only problem will be finding a way to superheat the air. Normally the engines can do that themselves, but the instruments are indicating that it's abnormally cold outside.[/B]"

Frederic frowned. "[B]If we can't get them to start, then I'll contact the military and request that someone come and pick us up.[/B]" Though he'd rather not do that since Cole had specifically told him to not tell anyone about it.

"[B]Well, that's not going to work either,[/B]" Jack said. "[B]Something may be interfering with standard communications. Shortly before the ship hit, everything died. I'll check the equipment for that as soon as I'm done here.[/B]"

"[B]If it happened before the ship hit...[/B]"

"[B]Exactly,[/B]" Jack answered. "[B]Why don't you go and check outside while I finish up?[/B]" He shifted so Frederic could see his face and flashed a sardonic grin in his direction. "[B]If nothing else, we'll just ride the chimeras back to town.[/B]"

Frederic nodded and headed for the closest hatch. However, the door refused to budge. Either it was warped from the crash or something outside was pressing against it. He tried the others and encountered the same problem. A cold uneasy feeling started in the bottom of his stomach and spread outward. Had they sunk in the ice and snow?

He shook his head and shoved the thought aside as he made for the bridge of the airship. When they had first landed, he had seen what looked like an endless field of white. If not ice, he had assumed it was snow. To his surprise, half of the windows were covered in what looked like ice. [I]We have sunk into the ice! [/I] He froze in place, horrified.

If they couldn't get the hatches open or contact anyone... [I]Shit![/I] [/font]

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[SIZE="1"]Liana sat quietly behind her counter at what she though had to be the most boring job in all of LeMonde.

Bijoux, the antique jewelry store she worked for part-time, hadn't seen a single customer all day. Liana was so bored, she actually felt the urge to open up one of her textbooks and do homework.

She pushed the thought away quickly. For one, prudence wasn't her style, but also, her rather harsh manager was watching her like a hawk to make sure she didn't slack off. Liana took the glare she was giving her as a clue to polish the jewels for umpteenth time!

She sighed, opening the cabinet and pulling out a random piece of jewelry. Her mind drifted to the beautiful wedding and the amazing people she had met. [I]If only I were born into such a fabulous family...[/I] Guilt overtook her as she thought back to Marcel. Her adoptive grandfather had taken her in and given his entire life to raise her.

Perhaps Marcel was right when he said the reason she doesn't have friends was because she doesn't allow for them.

[CENTER]-----[/CENTER]

[I][B]"How did you like the wedding, dear?"[/B] he asked upon arrival back at their home.

[B]"It was lovely,"[/B] She paused, thinking of how to put it delicately, [B]"Although the Almagests seemed a bit eccentric."[/B]

[B]"I tried to warn you,"[/B] he laughed through sips of bourbon.

[B]"They're not all bad though. I really liked Victoria Ann. I only wish I was able to make friends like her at Lumière...[/B] She sighed.

[B]"Don't let a little thing like distance intervene."[/B] He said, standing up from the desk in his office to approach her. He led her over to a set of comfy leather chairs by a fireplace and had her sit across from him.
[B]"I know it's been very difficult for you. Me and your grandmother, before she passed, are all you've ever known. And maybe it's our fault for thinking we could raise a child--"[/B]

[B]"Don't be silly!"[/B] Liana interrupted him, [B]"You've been great. And I would never have traded my life for anything."[/B]

[B]"I'm glad to hear you say that."[/B] He said, finishing off the bourbon. [B]"But look here: Ever since your grandmother passed away, I've seen you slowly recoil into Bijoux, Lumière, and even Silverworks. You spend less time with your friends than you did before and you've occupied yourself with nothing but work."[/B]

Liana frowned and stared at her feet.

[B]"Don't make the same mistake I did, Liana. I thought of nothing but my future in the company. I even put it before your grandmother, and not a day goes by that I don't blame myself for her death. If only I could have been there..."[/B] He paused. Liana figured he was trying to think of something else to avoid crying. After clearing his throat, he continued, [B]"I see that you're doing the same thing. You need not worry about me. I'm fine working at Silverworks. Even though I love seeing you at the office every chance you get, you don't need to worry. I think you'll have this company under your thumb before you turn 20. Because you're so passionate like me."[/B]

Liana smiled, still looking at her feet. Marcel pulled her chin up to make eye contact with him. His eyes were full of light, despite his age. Liana knew he was right in his assessment of Silverworks. He didn't have much time left in him, and that thought tore her up inside.

[B]"You need to promise me one thing."[/B] Marcel said quietly, wiping away Liana's tears. [B]"Promise me that you'll go to the Grimoire fashion show tomorrow with Gustave and Victoria."[/B]

[B]"But grandfather, I'm supposed to work in Silverworks tomorrow. There's still so much that needs to be done. We're several months behind on our --"[/B]

[B]"No excuses. Silverworks isn't your job just yet. I'm more than capable of handling it all myself."[/B] He said with a booming confidence she hadn't heard since her grandmother died. [B]"Your job is to live your life to the fullest, so that when I'm not here--"[/B]

[B]"Grandfather--"[/B] Liana interjected. She hated hearing of Marcel talking about his death.

[B]"No. Let me finish. I want to know that when I die, you'll be taken care of. That's how you will make me happy."[/B]

There was a long silence. Marcel was still holding her chin, and she looked into those big brown eyes of his and tried to push away the thought of his death.

She agreed to go to the fashion show and then Marcel said, [B]"Good. Now, you'd better be going. You need to get to Bijoux for work."[/B][/I]

[CENTER]-----[/CENTER]

[B]"Liana!"[/B] her manager scolded her. She came to, looking up to see a customer had just walked in. She put her jewelry back in the glass case and approached the man who had walked in.

[B]"Hi. Welcome to Bijoux. Is there anything that I can help you with."[/B]

[B]"Yes,"[/B] The man said rather rudely, like Liana should have known he needed her help picking out tacky antiques. [B]"I'm looking for an anniversary present for my wife."[/B]

[B]"Well, is there any specific material or jewels that your wife is fond of."[/B]

[B]"I don't know."[/B] He replied.

[I]And how long have you been married to this woman.[/I] Liana suppressed the urge to sigh and put on the biggest fake smile possible.

She got through the difficult part of helping this man. After she heard that his wife liked pink, she pointed him to a collection of some of Bijoux's finest pieces that contained pink in them. He couldn't seem to decide between a silver necklace with pink diamonds or a white gold bracelet with pink pearls and a heart shaped tag on it for inscription. He settled on the cheaper bracelet. [I]Figures.[/I] She though. As she was going through the paperwork for inscribing the bracelet, her locket fell out of her shirt and seemed to dangle in between both of them.

[B]"Oh what is that?"[/B] the man asked.

Liana quickly tucked it back into her shirt. [B]"It's an antique silver locket I received for my birthday."[/B] she said with the happiest voice she could muster.

[B]"Not that,"[/B] the man scowled, [B]"I mean the symbols on the locket."[/B]

Liana pulled the silver locket out once again and saw what he was talking about it. It's funny, she hadn't noticed those before when Marcel gave it to her. [B]"I'm not sure,"[/B] she said, completely dumbfounded that her eye for detail had completely missed them.

[B]"My wife really likes strange things."[/B] He said with disdain. As if he couldn't understand her taste. [B]"Do you have any other jewelry in this store with those symbols."[/B]

By this time, Liana's manager had come over and forcefully inspected her locket's symbols. Then she disappeared in the back for at least 20 minutes, searching for something similar.

[B]"I'm so sorry sir,"[/B] She said returning with numerous pieces of jewelry that she thought looked slightly similar. In actuality, they looked nothing like the designs on Liana's locket and all three of them knew it.

[B]"How much for the locket?"[/B] he asked.

[B]"I'm sorry sir, it's not for sell."[/B] Liana was taken aback at the man's obsession with her locket. [B]"You wouldn't want it anyway. It's broken. It doesn't open."[/B]

[B]"It doesn't matter. I'll find a way to fix it. My wife would really love it."[/B]

The man pulled out his wallet, which was bulging due to the massive number of bills he had in it. Liana could feel her manager's eyes burning a whole in the back of her head. But in the end, [B]"I'm sorry. I can't sell this to you."[/B]

The man left... Without buying anything. Liana's manager sent her home for the day.

[RIGHT][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Victoria_Ann.jpg[/IMG] [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/Liana_Prideux.jpg[/IMG][/RIGHT]

She sighed, walking through LeMonde in her designer apparel and a signature bow on her blonde hair. [B]"Stupid man."[/B]

At first, she went to buy some coffee and lazily flipped through some of her textbooks for school. She didn't comprehend anything that she read, however, as her mind was constantly drifting back to the symbols. She glanced at her locket once more and then to her watch. She had time to make a stop before going home.

Liana headed straight for the library. She wasn't sure if she could find anything on the symbols, but she remembered that the library had served her well for all her questions on architecture. It couldn't hurt.

Upon entering the massive wooden doors, she saw Gustave and Victoria Ann emerging from one of the lower levels. They looked quite tired and a little beaten up. Liana waved and called to them.

[B]"Hey!"[/B] Victoria said with a bright smile, [B]"What are you doing here?"[/B]
[/SIZE]

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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/Macey_Ellen.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
Harrison groaned inwardly when Macey absent mindedly handed her bag to their one and only crewmember, Arnold Davis. He could see the startled look in the man?s eyes and he gave a quick shake of his head, hoping he?d just put her things away without a fuss. Obviously Macey was still used to being waited on hand and foot. It probably never occurred to her to consider that there wouldn?t be anyone onboard to tend to her needs. She had taken in his plainer dress and assumed he was a crewmember; and he was, but not the kind she thought.

[I]The Maria[/I] was a specially built ship, designed to be nearly completely automatic. It was of course a little better than most pleasure cruisers since they would be heading to much higher altitudes than airships usually took, but in order to maintain a certain level of secrecy and keep things quiet, there was no crew to speak of. Colonel Tallis had the necessary expertise should things go wrong with the ship and though he didn?t have the official certificate just yet, Harrison could fly it if need be.

To his relief the man picked up on it and simply turned and walked off with Macey?s stuff. [I]I?ll make sure to talk to her,[/I] he thought when she had left to go and see the others. Arnold was along to handle the chimeras they would be using, not to wait on Macey or anyone else for that matter. He watched her head for the bridge and groaned at what she was wearing. [I] I hope she brought something other than skirts.[/I] If what he had read about the summit was correct, she?d freeze in her current outfit.

He shook it off and followed Mr. Davis, taking a moment to apologize to him before heading back to find the others. Considering how much Macey and Bavaria did not get along, he was not surprised to run into Macey first. It wouldn't have made sense for her to hang out on the bridge where Bavaria was.

?[B]Harrison,[/B]? She said warmly. ?[B]Perhaps you could show me where my quarters are since the crew seems to have vanished.[/B]?

?[B]They didn?t vanish.[/B]? He answered her, ?[B]We don?t have crewmembers.[/B]?

?[B]Don?t be silly Harrison. How else did my bag get to my quarters?[/B]?

His eyebrow shot up. ?[B]That was Mr. Davis; he?s our handler for the chimeras.[/B]?

?[B]I see, then perhaps you could show me where it is.[/B]? She seemed unconcerned that he might have other duties. ?[B]We can catch up on how you?ve been.[/B]?

He pointed down the hallway, ?[B]Take a left, it will be the first room on the right.[/B]? Harrison sighed slightly. ?[B]I hope you have something other than dresses Macey, otherwise you?re going to freeze.?[/B]

?[B]Of course I do. Don?t be snide Harrison.[/B]?

?[B]Macey, just be sure to be prepared.[/B]? He turned and headed to the bridge.

[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/Macey_Ellen.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]
Harrison just watched as Colonel Tallis brought the ship in to land in one of the snow covered valleys further up on the Vosper summit. [I]The Maria[/I] was vibrating violently from the winds but everything seemed to be under control as he set her down in a small clearing among some tall pine trees.

?[B]Right, let?s get going.[/B]? Tallis said once the ship was securely on the ground. ?[B]There?s plenty of daylight hours left and loading up the chimeras shouldn?t take long.[/B]?

He turned to look at Macey and Bavaria who had changed clothing, it wasn?t as good as what he and Harrison had or Ivan and Arnold for that matter, but it was better than the dresses. With a slight glare at one another, the two left to go and get their things.

?[B]This is going to be fun.[/B]? Harrison said sarcastically once the two women had left. ?[B]I know it?s none of my business, but those two do not like one another at all.[/B]?

Tallis grinned as he finished shutting the airship down before getting up. ?[B]We?ll just pretend that the two are best friends.[/B]?

?[B]Sir?[/B]?

?[B]Unless they actually fight, you just ignore any childish jabs or fighting. It?s pretty simple really.[/B]? He explained.

?[B]At least the cold will probably shut both of them up.[/B]? Ivan chimed in. Both of them turned to look at him and he flushed slightly. ?[B]I mean? uh? I doubt either one of them is used to it?[/B]?

Tallis laughed. ?[B]Don?t worry lad. Just don?t go repeating that where they can hear you.[/B]?

?[B]I won?t.[/B]?

[CENTER]-------------------------------[/CENTER]
The wind was blowing fiercely as the group made their way through the snow. It was obvious that the chimeras were ignoring the snow that was nearly blinding them. To make matters worse, their compasses has stopped working properly almost immediately as they climbed upwards.

They had a map but the blinding snow made it hard to tell if they were going in the right direction, other than up that is. Macey was right behind Colonel Tallis on her chimera with Ivan between her and Bavaria who was back by Harrison and Arnold who were bringing up the rear.

?[B]Are you sure the chimeras can take this[/B]?? Bavaria was huddled miserably under her thick cloak that had been given to her.

?[B]Of course Lady Bavaria,[/B]? Davis answered. ?[B]This type of chimera was actually bred for this kind of climate. They could curl up in the snow and their thick undercoat would keep them warm without any trouble.[/B]?

Bavaria sighed. ?[B]If you say so.[/B]? She pulled the reins closer to her torso in an attempt to keep her arms inside the heavy cloak better. She pulled on the reigns, slowing the chimera down before it could catch up with Macey and Colonel Tallis who were well in the lead.

"[B]The snow is certainly pretty isn't it Colonel?[/B]" Macey's voice echoed back to them, a definite edge of disdain could clearly be heard.

Tallis just muttered a short reply and kept paying attention to their surroundings. The wind picked up again as it started to snow even harder, making it nearly impossible for Harrison and the others to see the two in front. There was a sudden flash followed by a sharp crack filling the air, causing the chimera?s to jump and shift sideways a bit.

Ivan?s numb fingers lost their grasp and he tumbled off of his startled chimera to land in the white snow with a grunt of surprise. The chimera moved a few paces and then stopped, confused by the sudden loss of its rider.

Harrison couldn?t help but snicker as Ivan tried to get back on his feet and slipped and fell face first into the snow, cursing under his breath. He still maneuvered the animal over and extended his hand to help Ivan get back up. He let go once Ivan had steadied himself, staying put while Davis brought the chimera back to where he was standing, brushing the snow off of his cloak.

?[B]Are you alright?[/B]? Davis asked him as Ivan climbed back on the chimera.

?[B]Yeah, my fingers were cold so I lost my grip when it shied sideways.[/B]? He explained.

?[B]Here,[/B]? Davis dug into one of his packs and pulled out a set of gloves. ?[B]This will work better than what you?re currently wearing.[/B]? He tossed them to Ivan who caught them and pulled off his other ones to replace them.

?[B]Thanks,[/B]? He stuffed his other ones into the pack resting behind him on the chimera.

?[B]We?d better hurry,[/B]? Bavaria spoke up. ?[B]I?ve lost sight of the others.[/B]?

Harrison looked up the trail and sure enough, he could see no sign of the other two. Had they not realized that Ivan had fallen off? With a grim look they tried to follow their tracks as best as they could, but there was too much snow and they couldn?t be certain if they were actually following the right trail or not.

?[B]Stop.[/B]? Harrison finally said fifteen minutes later. ?[B]The Colonel wouldn?t just keep going without checking every now and then. We must have taken a wrong turn or something.[/B]?

?[B]It hasn?t been that long Harrison,[/B]? Bavaria pointed out. ?[B]He probably just hasn?t noticed yet.[/B]?

Harrison shook his head. ?[B]No, he was looking back every minute or so?[/B]?

Another brilliant flash assaulted their eyes. It was immediately followed by a deafening crack and then a deep rumbling sound. There was nothing the group could do except hold onto their chimeras who shied and shifted nervously. The group could feel the ground rumbling beneath their feet and then it was over.

?[B]What just happened?[/B]? Ivan cried.

?[B]It sounded like it came from the trail behind us.[/B]? Davis looked grim. ?[B]I?m going to check real quick, stay put.[/B]?

He was only gone for a few minutes but his expression was even grimmer when he returned. ?[B]There was a small avalanche, probably triggered by the storm.[/B]?

?[B]Damn.[/B]? Harrison swore. ?[B]What about the others?[/B]?

?[B]I?m sure they?re fine, it wasn?t that big. There?s no way for us to backtrack and look for other trails though.[/B]?

?[B]I suppose not.[/B]? Harrison thought about it for a moment, what would the Colonel do?[I] He would stay calm and take the best route for finding the others. he wouldn't panic.[/I] He took a deep breath to steady himself. He would do the same.

?[B]We know that according to the map for this area, there?s an opening further up before you get to a canyon on the map. We should make for that and then see if we can spot them.[/B]? Harrison finally said.

?[B]Aren?t you forgetting the storm?[/B]? Ivan pointed out.

?[B]No, I?m not.[/B]? Harrison pointed towards the sky. ?[B]There are a few breaks so hopefully by the time we get there; it will have cleared off enough for us to spot the others.[/B]?

"[B]And if we don't?[/B]" Bavaria asked in a worried tone.

"[B]Then we'll look for a trail that leads back down to hunt for them.[/B]" Harrison glanced at Davis who nodded in agreement. [/SIZE][/COLOR]

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[indent][size=1][center][img] http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest/fauntleroy-chronicle.jpg[/img][/center]
The past day or so had been typical for Fauntleroy. Another dreadful family gathering followed by a few glasses of champagne, followed by a dramatic outburst, followed by a snifter of cognac, followed by some startling revelation, followed by rum and then (of course) repose. Although he was not happy with it anymore the life of a socialite was something that he had grown quite accustomed to. As he awoke that afternoon with a splitting headache he wondered if that was all he would ever be.

Since the Revolution Fonty and his father had seemingly bridged the divide that once separated them. It was a marvel to Beatriste and the others that the two were even speaking again, let alone working together on a project with the size and scope of the reconstruction. No longer was he the good-for-nothing child that had failed at countless jobs, but rather an up-and-coming businessman; an heir apparent, or so he thought.

Leonhart Almagest was a man who thrived on control, and laid out careful plans for everyone in his life. Yet it seemed to Fauntleroy was left out of the equation entirely. Was he merely expected to sit idly by as the reins of Magitech were being passed off to Cole Dreadnaught?

“[b]I was wondering when you would wake up,[/b]” Charles said as he read the morning Chronicle at a sofa from across the bedroom. Fauntleroy wondered exactly how long he had been there, “[b]The servants asked me if you would like your breakfast served to you here, or in the dining hall?[/b]”

“[b]Breakfast?[/b]” Fonty felt a strong churning in his stomach, “[b]That won’t be necessary Charles.[/b]”

Charles nodded, “[b]I’m only joking anyways. The servants were actually wondering about your dinner plans.[/b]”

“[b]Dinner?[/b]” Fonty reached for his bathrobe and draped it over his slim, athletic frame as he stood to his feet, “[b]What hour is it?[/b]”

“[b]Late enough. I’ve tried waking you numerous times with new about your father but alas, no such luck.[/b]”

“[b]Apologies. It appears I may have overdone it once again.[/b]” He paused. “[b]What news?[/b]”

“[b]Leonhart had a small heart attack in the study early this morning. He’s perfectly fine, though.[/b]”

Fonty’s eyes widened in shock, “[b]By the holy flame! Are you serious? Why did nobody wake me?[/b]”

“[b]Like I said, I tried numerous times. The good news is that he has already returned to Rosengard, albeit against the orders of his doctors.[/b]” Fonty disappeared behind an ornate wooded dressing screen as Charles continued to speak, “[b]Just like Leonhart, though. He was threatening the doctors even as he was being treated. They knew better than to cross paths with the most powerful businessman in Czenovia.[/b]”

“[b]At least for now….[/b]” he muttered, “[b]How is he holding up?[/b]”

“[b]I haven’t seen him myself. Catherine and Alecia have been at his side most of the day, and Macey Ellen stopped in briefly before leaving for some sort of lecture in Anova.[/b]”

“[b]And Bavaria?[/b]”

“[b]She was with Leonhart at the time of his heart attack, but nobody has seen a trace of her since.[/b]”

Fonty rolled his eyes, dressing himself in a loud lavender suit, “[b]Probably at the Mirror Palace.[/b]”

“[b]Oh![/b]” Charles added, “[b]Dawlish stopped in momentarily. First to check in on Leonhart, and then to speak with you. I told him you were indisposed.[/b]”

“[b]Indisposed? For what I pay you I expect better lies than that, Charles.[/b]”

“[b]I have enough trouble keeping the truth straight with this family. I’m not prepared to start lying on your behalf.[/b]”

“[b]Touché.[/b]”

“[b]If you could do me a favor, I need to contact Gustave Achard regarding something I may have left on board [i]The Alaina….[/i][/b]”

Charles bit his lower lip, “[b]I’m afraid that’s impossible.[/b]”

“[b]What do you mean impossible? Just send him a wire message.[/b]”

“[b][i]The Alaina[/i] was destroyed in a spectacular crash in Le Monde earlier today. Fortunately everyone, including Gustave and Victoria Ann, made it out safely.[/b]”

“[b]Destroyed?[/b]” he sputtered, “[b]As in [i]gone[/i]?[/b]”

“[b]Like I’ve said twice already, we tried to wake you…. You should really stop drinking so much.[/b]”

Fonty let out a heavy sigh and he motioned towards his doorway, “[b]I’m going to see my father right now. If you could develop the photographs I took of Beatriste’s wedding for me. They should be….[/b]”

“[b]—Developing now.[/b]”

“[b]See. I knew hiring you was a good idea![/b]”

Charles rolled his eyes, “[b]One more thing before you speak to Leonhart.[/b]”

“[b]Yes?[/b]”

“[b]Good luck.[/b]”
[center][img] http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Belmonda_Achard.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Natalia_Lockmere.jpg[/img] [img] http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Frederic_Achard.jpg[/img][/center]
Belmonda threw on a thick brown overcoat as she continued taking inventory of what had and had not been damaged in the crash. Although she was very bright in certain respects, the truth was that the woman had no idea what she was taking inventory of. This chore was merely a distraction Belmonda gave herself, as it was the only thing she could think of doing that would keep her from panicking.

She searched the cabin for a broom to sweep up the broken glass when she heard footsteps from behind, “[b]What’s the status report, Freder—[/b]” She turned her head, “[b]Natalia?[/b]”

“[b]Hello Bella. Do you need any help?[/b]”

“[b]I’m fine,[/b]” she folded her arms, “[b]I’m fine. Shouldn’t you be with the chimaera?[/b]”

“[b]They are a little shaken, but they feed off of our emotions more than anything. As long as we stay calm so will they.[/b]” Natalia opened a side drawer and withdrew a small handheld broom, “[b]I’m here to check on you.[/b]”

She shrugged, “[b]My arm is a little sore, but I will be fine.[/b]”

“[b]That’s not what I meant,[/b]” she replied, staring Bella straight in the eyes. Bella brushed her hand against her face to cover it when she realized that the small amount of makeup she had put on was starting to run around her eyes, “[b]Were you crying?[/b]”

“[b]It’s nothing, really….[/b]” she paused, “[b]When I found out we were going to crash… it was all so sudden. [i]The only thing I could think of was Vincent. [/i] For a moment I really felt like I was going to see him again.[/b]”

“[b]We were all frightened during the crash, but at least we’re safe now. Jack and Frederic are inspecting the engines, so I’m sure they’ll be pulling us out of the snow in no time.[/b]”

“[b]Jack….[/b]” Bella bit her lower lip, “[b]I don’t know if I trust him at all. How convenient that the notorious Jack Deacon was recruited by my brother, only to send us hurdling into a snow bank at the first chance.[/b]”

“[b]You don’t trust your brother’s judgment?[/b]”

“[b]Of course, to a degree. But with Frederic’s military experience he should know better than anyone that when all is said and done a pirate is still a pirate.[/b]”

“[b]As far as I’m concerned that pirate is the only thing that kept us from getting killed. You can’t blame him for the storm.[/b]”

The cabin lights began to flicker before shutting off completely. A few moments passed Frederic entered the cabin, the worried expression on his face exaggerated in the shadows created by his handheld lantern. Bella didn’t have to ask a single question to know what he was about to say.
[center][img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest/fauntleroy-chronicle.jpg[/img] [img] http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest/leonhartavatar.jpg[/img][/center]
Fauntleroy entered his father’s expansive study, stopping momentarily to admire several of the flower arrangements that had been sent to him by Leonhart’s business associates and friends. They were spread generously throughout the large room, some resting on bookshelves while others were simply so large they had to be placed on the floor. In one corner of the room, past the piles of papers and cards, rested Leonhart. He was sitting silently in a wheelchair and staring into his fireplace as he read from an old leather-bound book.

“[b]How are you feeling father?[/b]” Fauntleroy asked timidly.

The old man turned his head softly towards his son, “[b]Fauntleroy. How long have you been here?[/b]”

"[b]Only a moment. I didn't disturb you, did I?[/b]"

"[b]No, no. I was just looking through one of your uncle's journals. Even though he is no longer with us I still find it comforting to read his thoughts from time to time.[/b]" He set the journal aside, "[b]But I suppose that's the sign of age. One stops looking to the living for guidance in favor of the dead.[/b]"

"[b]Is there anything I can get for you?[/b]"

"[b]No, and please promise you will never ask me that question again. I had a heart attack; I'm not helpless, and I'm not dead. I have no intentions of slowing down my various enterprises, nor should you. We have much work ahead of us, despite these momentary interruptions....[/b]"

"[b]And the search for the Xear artifacts?[/b]"

"[b]Our primary concern,[/b]" he replied stubbornly, "[b]It is important that we come up with a way to circumvent The Dynasts' meddling in this matter. It is a matter of national safety.[/b]"

"[b]I'm sure Primas Generous is only doing what he feels is best. It is his country after all.[/b]" Leonhart remained silent, and Fauntleroy cautiously continued, "[b]But I'm curious to know... were you ever going to ask me to help you?[/b]"

"[b]I had hoped for Cole's assistance in the matter. However he has decided that his new bride is his priority, and perhaps rightly so. I do admire how elegantly he manages to balance his commitments in Brigit Town alongside spending time with Beatriste Elyse. In moments of weakness I find myself wondering if perhaps I couldn't have made a greater impact on your life if I had been there more when you were a youth.[/b]"

"[b]My question, please.[/b]"

"[b]If you must know, I'm sure if I had been left with no other alternative you would have been approached. After all, I did ask young Ivan....[/b]"

"[b]Well,[/b]" Fonty turned his back, "[b]It appears you're back to your old self already. I'll leave you back to your journals.[/b]"

"[b]You shouldn't be so sensitive Fauntleroy. It's inappropriate for a man of your--[/b]"

"[b]I'll speak to you in the morning father. Good night.[/b]"

As Fauntleroy exited the study he admired a large brass globe set upon Leonhart's desk. He stared into it for a moment, and was disgusted by the sight of his own reflection.[/size][/indent]

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[/center][FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]
Juste circled the spire scanning the ancient lettering. Every now and again pausing and running his fingers over a symbol and then continuing on in his circuit. Felix sat a few paces off watching as he excitingly bobbed here and there following the flow of the words.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]After his third lap Felix decided to put his pack down and set up camp. He knew that Juste would want to stay as long as he could to investigate. Plus the pains of the fall were catching up with Felix and some rest sounded really good.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]He set out the bedrolls and was digging the fire pit with one of the broken instruments from Juste?s bag when Juste came bustling by. He wordlessly rummaged through his bag and pulled a leather-bound notebook from it. He went back to the spire and started jotting down what Felix could only guess were the symbols.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]?Am I going to be doing all of the work??[/B] Felix playfully chided returning to his digging.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]?I am working.? [/B]Juste replied flatly not looking up from his notebook.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]Felix sat back onto his knees. [B]?What does it say??

[/B][/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]?Not sure yet, a lot of it is illegible.?[/B]

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]Felix rocked back on his heels and stood up. Brushing the dirt off his knees he walked over to Juste and leaned over his shoulder. He had scores of the symbols drawn out with notations next to almost every one. Felix lingered a little while longer before garnering a glance from Juste. Juste cleared his throat telling Felix to stop. The cousins met eyes and Felix sighed and set off to find firewood.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]Grabbing his rifle as he went Felix checked the action and the shells and set off into the jungle. Each step came with its own unique sound as the dead foliage varied throughout the forest floor. Felix heard animals moving with caution around him, even caught a few blurs of color as they rushed away from this new invading creature. Felix tried to stomp around as much as he could to try and not sneak up and surprise anything that would rip his face off if startled.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]After a few trips, Felix had everything he needed to keep the fire going nice and bright all night. Usually a small fire is better and easier to attend, but a big one would help ward off any curious predators and hopefully help Jace and the others find them if they found a way down into the jungle. He arranged the wood in sizes and then went back into the thicket to find some kindling.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]Felix found some dried bark that would work well and started traveling back to camp when his boot struck something that made an interesting noise. A hollow metallic sound came from beneath a bed of vines. Felix took a knee and struck the vines with a closed fist and the sound came again. He stared at the vines for a moment. He tried prying them up with his hands but they were too interwoven. He sat for a moment, thinking, then pulled the hold-out knife that was sheathed in his boot and proceeded to cut at the vines. A while later he stared flabbergasted at his uncovered treasure.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]?Juste! Juste you have to see this!?[/B] Felix cried.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]A few moments passed and Juste stumbled through the thicket breathing heavy. [B]?Now what do I just have to-?[/B] Juste stood jaw slung open staring at a beaming Felix next to what looked like a metal man.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]He was rusted and tarnished so that it was hard to tell his original metal, but seemed wholly intact. His face was just a plate with slits for eyes and a mouth, but the rest of his body was much more complex, he had an untold number of markings on him, including new scratches from where Felix had cut him loose. It looked like he was a little clunky, but had enough moving parts to make him more graceful than one would expect.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]Juste took a moment to gather himself. [B]?Where did you find that??[/B]

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]?Oh this??[/B] Felix drawled. [B]?It was just lying around.?[/B]
[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]
?This is magnificent.?[/B] Juste fell to his knees beside the metal man and started looking him over. [B]?Can we move him back to the camp??[/B]

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]Felix starred for a moment at Juste. [B]?This thing is like, four hundred pounds.?[/B]

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]Two hours later Felix and Juste flopped down in the campsite, metal man close by. After a few minutes of wheezing Juste finally got up enough energy to go over to the metal man and start examining him again. He seemed even more excited about this discovery than the spire. Felix on the other hand, had done most of the labor carrying the man and had decided that he already hated him.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]?Do the symbols say anything??[/B] Felix asked after a long silence.
[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy][B]?They are just as illegible as the spire?s, if not more.? [/B]

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]Juste ripped at the vines still entangling the man and pulled some of them out of his openings. Felix sat up to watch Juste, much to the displeasure of his limbs. Juste found an odd ridge running down the front of the man that led to a mostly legible Xear symbol. He scrapped off most of the rust blocking it from view but still couldn?t read it. He traced it with his finger to it center. Pushing down, the center of the symbol gave way. An audible click came from him followed by a whir of motion from inside the man. Felix sprang up to his feet grabbing Juste and putting himself between the two.

[/COLOR][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][COLOR=Navy]And the man moved.
[/COLOR][/FONT]

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[CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Belmonda_Achard.jpg[/IMG][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Frederic_Achard.jpg[/IMG][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest/jackavatar.jpg[/IMG][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Natalia_Lockmere.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]

[FONT="Palatino Linotype"][COLOR="DarkSlateBlue"][B]"What are you doing?!"[/B] squealed Natalia as she made it back to the stables. Inside Jack was busy undoing his sister Morphia's beast, Fervous.

[B]"I'm releasing the animals,"[/B] replied Jack coolly, [B]"problem?"[/B]

[B]"What do you plan to do with them?"[/B]

[B]"I'm not sure yet, but if they stay here this room's going to fry them when I blow up the engine."[/B]

[B]"Blow the engine up?!"[/B] Natalia immediately ran and started undoing another beast's harness, Jack thought she looked as if he'd just said he was going to kill them. Of course if they didn't get out of this ice trap Fervous would be the first beast he'd fricassee.

[B]"Why in the hell would you do that?!"[/B] yelled Frederic, whom Jack had not shared this plan with yet.

[B]"Why are you two yelling every question?!"[/B] Jack retorted, smiling after realizing he was contributing to the problem. [B]"Anyways, I'm going to blow the engine. The resulting blast will cook the ice for us and we can use the Chimeras to claw out of here. I'm open to ideas on what we do after that."[/B]

[B]"That is a terrible idea."[/B] said Frederic, grabbing one of the loose animals by the harness and stopping it from walking free. [B]"By the time we hit open air we'll all be covered in so much slush we'll die of frostbite. Why don't we just get the engines running and then try to force our way out?"[/B]

[B]"By the time the engines get warm enough, the ice will have settled in. Using my way I'm sure the blast will blow a nice hole for us rats to scurry through."[/B]

[B]"What's to stop the flames from engulfing the entire ship?"[/B] Frederic asked. Jack spit onto the ground hating that he had to explain this.

[B]"The ship has built in blast doors to protect against explosions during combat, if we stand behind one we'll be safe from the blast, however we must move quickly before the ice settles in once again."[/B]

[B]"Mr. Deacon that is a terrible idea."[/B]

[B]"Mr. Achard I would like for you to come up with one bet-"[/B] no sooner than he began talking, Jack felt a rumble that made the beasts go rampant. In the next instance the ship jerked violently and it started descending once more. Out of the darkness of the corridor Belmonda tumbled, falling into Natalia. Jack held on to Fervous as the beast found its balance and Frederic held onto the railing. They were falling again, further into the abyss. The Stelmaria's hull rattled violently for a spell and then suddenly, everything stopped again.

Jack immediately ran out of the room, leaving the party behind as he made his way to the cockpit. There, using auxillary power, he turned on the ship's headlights which revealed a long cavern tunnel. Seeing this he took it back to his party, whom he showed what he just discovered. Skeptic as always, Frederic and Bella objected to leaving the ship but eventually it was decided their chances were better out there than they were in the ship. After further planning the small crew loaded up the chimeras and began their trek further into the cave.

It was a dark and damp trip, with the chimeras doing their best to balance and not slip. As they walked the ship soon faded into the distance, its light dying as they found themselves deeper in the cavern. Soon Jack lit a lamp and everything around them became pitch black. Jack noticed as the moved the ceiling getting higher, indicating that they were entering one of the larger chambers of the system.

[B]"Have any of you ever gone spelunking?"[/B] Jack asked, breaking the silence that had fell over the crew when suddenly the ground began shaking again.

Jack beamed his light behind Frederic, who was in the rear, and to his horror he saw the cave collapsing behind them. [B]"Run!"[/B] He yelled, rearing Fervous and holding him steady as the others passed him. Taking up the rear, Fervous gave a shriek as he began to follow the other chimeras. Being bred to be a racer, Fervous was clearly faster than the other beasts but Jack held him back to pressure the others to move even faster. The ice fall began closing in on the small party, with Fervous feeling the slush graze his heel. The beast shrieked once again, before finally leaping and running ahead of the others. Fervous ran until suddenly, the ground gave from under him and he went tumbling down, the rest followed.

Jack awoke with a pain in his side and an ache in his head to Fervous' thick tongue. Jack shot up and began feeling around for his lamp. Finding it, he immediately lit it and looked around, everyone was there, safe. But something else caught his eye. Behind his broken and battered crew was some kind of monstrosity, something he'd never seen the likes of before in his life. Whats more the other chimeras were circling it, as if it were something familiar to them.[B] "Do you know what this is?"[/B] Jack asked Fervous.

[CENTER][IMG]http://docs.google.com/File?id=dg5275qm_54gfzxkff8_b[/IMG][/CENTER]

Jack approached it, this metallic crustacean, and eyed it puzzled. It had two protruding mandibles from its front, as well as a whip-like tail in its back. It had several dozen dark green eyes in its front and more features which made it look like some type of odd... chimera. Jack watched as Fervous cooed and to his surprise, the thing let out a hum.

[B]"What is that?"[/B] came a voice from behind Jack. It was Natalia, and no sooner had he turned around, the thing opend its front, startling them both.

Jack looked inside and realized immediately what he was staring at. [B]"It... It's a [I]ship[/I]!"[/B] he yelled, and no sooner than he said that the boy inside of him forced him to go inside.

Oh what luck! He thought. No matter where this thing came from, if they could get it running then they would be free. [B]"Natalia!"[/B] he yelled down from just inside, [B]"Get the others, we have our ticket out of here!"[/B][/COLOR][/FONT]

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[font=garamond][size=4][right][B]Call for Help[/B][/right][/font][/size]
[font=palatino linotype]Liana smiled widely. 'Victoria! Gustave! What are [i]you[/i] doing here?'

'We're investigating something,' replied Victoria. She had only met Liana once before, at the wedding. Although Victoria was already very fond of Liana, she did not know whether Edith would like her secret symbols being discussed with strangers. The thought of Edith's reaction was enough for Victoria to remain vague.

Liana looked around the expansive room. 'I haven't been here in a long time. Actually I'm here because of my locket.' She held it out to show them. 'A man came into the store where I work today and... he was most insistent that he wanted to buy this.'

Gustave examined the locket under the library's dim light. 'Oh I see,' he said thoughtfully. 'Perhaps you are here for the same reason as us.' He looked down at Victoria and nodded. She produced the envelope with Edith's symbols inside. As it turned out, they almost matched those on Liana's locket.

Liana covered her mouth. 'Oh,' she gasped, 'I don't understand...what's going on?'

'That's what we're trying to work out,' replied Victoria. 'We had a look in the aisle covering ancient civilizations, but most of the books we found on the Xear had nothing to do with these symbols.'

'Xear? Oh! You think this has something to do with Xear?' Liana seemed startled. Like most Anovans, she had learned about the Xear in her history classes. However, Xear studies were incomplete at best. Very few people in the world had any understanding of the Xear language.

Gustave nodded. 'These are definitely Xear symbols. They seem to be turning up everywhere lately. But the lack of information in this library is frustrating.'

'I think we should go back downstairs,' said Liana. 'Did you speak to the attendant down there?'

Victoria shook her head. 'Er, no, she did not seem very helpful...'

'She is a little eccentric,' said Liana with a chuckle, 'and mostly she's only concerned with punishing people who talk too loudly down there. But she is actually very helpful. I have met her a few times on field trips to the library.'




A lamp crouched over the desk, casting its yellow light across Liana's locket.

The library attendant - an elderly lady with white hair and enormous glasses - blinked inquisitively as she examined the locket. Her eyes appeared many times larger through her lenses. The effect made it difficult for Victoria to avoid giggling to herself.

'Well,' she sighed, 'even I can not determine the meaning of these symbols. They are indeed Xear, but...'

Gustave raised an eyebrow. 'But?'

'Er, well, they seem to be a dialect that I am not familiar with.'

Victoria and Liana looked at each other. Neither could believe that their search for answers could end so abruptly.

'However,' muttered the attendant, 'I do have a friend in High Czenoble who might be able to help. I'll tell you what: how about I photograph these and send them off to her? She can have a look herself and get back to you directly.'




Gustave, Victoria and Liana stood at the entrance to the State Library. The sky was a deep indigo and the street lamps had just sprung to life. Somewhere nearby, a man was playing an accordion and people were clapping.

Gustave looked at his pocket watch. 'It's getting late,' he said. 'The steamcar should be here any moment.'

Prior to exiting the library, Gustave had given the attendant his address at Achard Hall. The attendant had promised that they would receive an answer by mail within days, but the whole endeavor somehow felt unsatisfactory. His experience with the Xear in previous years had not been a pleasant one and it was largely the result of one man that absolute disaster had been averted. Gustave's emotions towards that man were still confused and convoluted. The man had been his cousin's only lover after the divorce from Macey Ellen and, in the end, none of the Achards [i]really[/i] came to know him.

Gustave was almost as close to Vincent as Belmonda had been and he wondered why Vincent had said nothing of his lover for all that time. Perhaps he did not want to embarrass Macey? More likely, the relationship was still young and he simply didn't have the opportunity to let his family know - after all, Czenovia had begun to fall apart around him. It was not exactly the best time for a family meet-and-greet.

Nevertheless, Gustave could not shake the feeling that he had not truly known his cousin and this upset him. Losing a family member without having truly known them can be a person's biggest regret.

Victoria and Liana were talking quietly between themselves as everybody waited for the steamcar. Over dinner, Victoria explained what had happened three years earlier with the Xear cannon to Liana, who seemed so absorbed by the story that she barely ate anything.

As the steamcar finally rolled around the corner, Gustave gestured towards it. 'Liana, will you be going home or would you like to stay with us?'

Liana suddenly remembered that if she went with Gustave and Victoria, she would be staying in the home of her grandfather's boss. This idea seemed somewhat intimidating, but on the other hand, Achard Hall was one of the most legendary buildings in all of Anova - what young girl wouldn't want to see it? She could not pass up the opportunity.

'I would love to stay with you,' said Liana with a smile. 'Thank you for your offer.'

As the driver opened the rear door, all three disappeared into the steamcar's cosy leather confines.




The moon had risen high into the night sky by the time they reached Bourgade. The entire district was quite separate from Le Monde proper. As the city faded from view behind them, their steamcar had become surrounded by lush green fields, which seemed to roll on and on forever into the distance. Bourgade sat among them, elevated from its surroundings.

Bourgade was dotted with enormous chateaus, most of which were surrounded by expansive gardens and tall iron fences. As the steamcar slowly prowled through the lamp-lit streets, Liana and Victoria did not know where to focus their attention; one chateau gave way to another and each was more grand than the last. The sidewalks were a fine cobblestone and even the road seemed impossibly smooth. It was a place Victoria had visited before and it was not entirely dissimilar from the district surrounding Rosengard in High Czenoble. But for Liana, it was truly remarkable. As well-paid as her grandfather was, her family had not come steeped in old money - Bourgade was so exclusive that even many of Anova's rich could not have dreamed of living there.

Gustave eyed the passing homes as he propped his chin against his hand. He was tired; it had been a long day. While he was happy to be home, something about Bourgade bothered him. Perhaps it was that he was able to compare it to what he had seen abroad, especially in New Czenoble, where hundreds of people lived in skinny metal spires, many of which appeared to be close to collapse. The quietness and luxury of Bourgade was a world away from those people.

The steamcar began to slow as it rounded a final corner.

'Oh!' exclaimed Liana, 'is this it? Are we here?'

[center][img]http://img26.imageshack.us/img26/2567/achardhall.jpg[/img][/center]

Gustave grinned. 'Yes, this is it.' He glanced at his watch. 'Dinner will be ready for us upon our arrival...please feel free to go on ahead of me, as I must meet with my uncle as soon as possible.'

The two girls nodded excitedly. While the experience was completely new for Liana, it felt like a familiar holiday for Victoria - she loved spending time at Achard Hall. It was now much like a home away from home.




[center][img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/gustave_achard-1.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/olivier_achard.jpg[/img][/center]
[/font]
[font=garamond][size=4][right][B]The Legend of Berthold Black[/B][/right][/font][/size]
[font=palatino linotype]As Victoria and Liana date dinner in the guest dining room, Gustave made his way to the private wing, where his uncle's office was located. Although late evening had arrived, it was not uncommon for Olivier to still be sitting in his office. It was a grand room, at the far western end of the Achard Hall complex.

Sure enough, when Gustave entered, he saw Olivier sitting behind a large desk, puffing on a wooden pipe. Clouds of smoke billowed over his head as he sifted through papers on his desk.

The office was like a sanctuary for Olivier. Here, he could shut out the rest of the world. Gustave often suspected that Olivier kept himself so busy in order to avoid thinking about Evangeline.

'I thought you were due to be back hours ago,' said Olivier, peering over his glasses.

Gustave collapsed into a large armchair near the fireplace, which sat against the office's opposite wall.

He rubbed his forehead. 'I've had a long day, to put it mildly.' He had not told Olivier about the Alaina. He would explain that in the morning - it was probably best that Olivier was unaware of it, for the worry might be too much to handle.

'Well,' Olivier looked at the grandfather clock near his desk, 'I suppose late is better than never.'

He rose from behind the desk and opened its top drawer with an old silver key. The document he produced was the same one that Gustave had seen during the wedding.

Olivier sat in the armchair opposite Gustave and handed the document to him. 'Have a look and tell me what you think.'

The document was clearly very old and it looked like it had been written on some kind of parchment. The upper half contained several lines of writing and the lower half contained what looked like a rough map. The map itself was very unclear; it appeared that someone had quickly scribbled it based on only vague memories. And the upper portion was written in a language that Gustave did not immediately recognize. Some of the characters looked oddly familiar, nevertheless.

'A map? And... some kind of writing,' mumbled Gustave as he looked over it.

'Xear,' replied Olivier. Thick rings of gray smoke billowed into the air around him.

Gustave sighed deeply. '[i]Another[/i] Xear artifact...'

Olivier looked confused, which prompted Gustave to explain most of what had happened that day: the Alaina, meeting Edith, Edith's symbols and finally, Liana's locket. There was just no way to explain it without revealing the Alaina's crash.

Olivier simply fell silent, still puffing on his pipe. 'I am worried,' he said finally.

'Don't worry,' replied Gustave, 'she'll be as good as new and--'

'No, not about the ship,' said Olivier flatly. 'The Alaina is unimportant now. I am worried about these events - they can not simply be coincidence. Only a year ago, we would never have heard mention of the Xear - at least, nowhere outside history classes. Now they are everywhere, their symbols permeate everything...'

Gustave cleared his throat. 'Uncle, this map... are you trying to tell me it was written by the Xear themselves?'

Olivier shook his head. 'No, not by the Xear. The language is Xear, but the parchment is not nearly that old. I would say this is, well... it's possibly eighty or ninety years old. It is hard to tell exactly. There are no dates on it.'

'So where did this come from?'

'Turn it over and you will see,' replied Olivier.

Gustave turned the parchment over. The rear contained no text or images, except for one small notation in the bottom corner. It was a signature, but not a full name:

[center][size=5][i]Black[/i][/size][/center]

'Black?'

Olivier nodded. 'Yes. Berthold Black, to be precise.'

'How do you know?'

'It is a long story,' said Olivier. The fire was almost spent, reduced to deep orange embers. Their reflection danced in Olivier's glasses.

'You need to tell me,' said Gustave firmly. 'I need to know what is happening. Whatever this sudden Xear phenomenon is... I doubt it will bring anything good to Anova.'

'Well,' sighed Olivier, 'I know you are aware of the Black family.'

Gustave cringed. 'Of course. Hugo Black nearly killed me at the Chimaera Circuit three years ago. He's a cheat of the lowest kind...'

Olivier nodded. 'Yes, well, I am afraid to say that this trait runs through his entire family. The apple never falls far from the tree, as the saying goes. If I had to guess, I would say that his cheating ways come directly from his father.'

'I never considered his father,' said Gustave. 'Did you know him?'

'Oh yes, his father is very well known to me. I mentioned Berthold Black earlier. He is Hugo's father. He founded the Chimaera Junction here in Anova many years ago.'

'But the Junction is very old... it began before you were born, Uncle. Wouldn't that mean Hugo is too young to be Berthold's son?'

Olivier shook his head slowly. 'Berthold may be old enough to be Hugo's grandfather, but if you knew him like I knew him, well... he was popular with many young ladies in this country. It was well known in some circles that Hugo is is illegitimate child. One of several, no doubt.'

'Okay,' said Gustave, 'so what does Berthold Black have to do with this map?'

'Berthold Black was an explorer,' replied Olivier. 'Long before he founded the Junction, he traveled the globe in search of fame and fortune. The Black family are offended by the suggestion that he was, in fact, a pirate... but I would say he was not far off. Much of the fortune he acquired in order to start the Chimaera Junction came from ill-gotten means.'

Olivier emptied his pipe and stuffed it with fresh tobacco. It sparked up as he lit it with a match.

'And before he was an explorer, Berthold was a soldier in the Anovan Army. He fought during the mine war. He did most of his fighting in the early years, before myself or Leonhart Almagest became involved. You must remember that the Mine War lasted for many, many years. Some families lost two entire generations of men in that conflict.'

Gustave had never heard this story from his Uncle. That he was hearing it now worried him slightly - why would Olivier choose to be so honest about his past now?

'In fact, Berthold was a good friend of my father, Laurent. Laurent Achard was Berthold's commander on the battlefield. They fought in many conflicts together. Several of the largest battles that took place in and around Brigit Town were commanded by Laurent on the Anovan side and Reuben on the Czenovian side...'

'Reuben? That name sounds very familiar,' said Gustave thoughtfully.

Olivier nodded. 'Yes, Reuben Almagest...Leonhart's father. It is probably fair to say that both Leonhart and I became involved as young soldiers because we admired our fathers so much. I might be Anovan, but I am not afraid to say that Reuben Almagest was a brave soldier and a master tactician. Many on the Anovan side feared any confrontations with his battalion on the field.'

The embers in the fireplace died down further. Olivier's face became shrouded in shadow. As he breathed, the end of his pipe flared up.

'At some stage during the war, Laurent and Reuben confronted each other directly in battle. Records from the time say that their battle lasted many hours, with each man giving everything he had. Neither appeared to come out on top and it was as though they were equal and opposite forces - neither were willing to give in, nor could they over power their opponent. After many hours, the battle around them waned. Many soldiers had died and many more had become exhausted. The heavens opened up and rain began to fall. It was a stalemate.'

'A stalemate? But the Mine War did not end there?'

'It should have,' said Olivier. Gustave detected a hint of emotion in his voice. His regret was obvious.

'It should have ended there and it almost did. Laurent and Reuben lowered their swords. They were badly injured, but both willing to fight on. Perhaps when they noticed that they were the only two left on that battlefield, still fighting to the end, the sheer absurdity of it became apparent. They lowered their swords and acknowledged that they were equals. And with that, they turned their backs on one another and returned to their encampments.'

'For a while,' continued Olivier, 'it seemed that the war might end. For several days afterward, the fighting calmed and the battlefields began to fall silent. However there was one person who just couldn't tolerate it - one man who could not tolerate the idea that the war had been in vein: Berthold Black. In my father's journals, he spoke of his many arguments with Berthold. I suppose Berthold could simply not accept a truce. He could not accept that Brigit Town should be neutral, controlled by neither country. I am not entirely sure why - some suggest that the Black family had business interests there. But whatever the reason, it was clear that he was determined for the war to continue.'

Gustave looked at the map again. He ran his finger over the signature. What did Berthold Black's map have to do with the Mine War?

Olivier's eyes seemed heavy. As he spoke, the pain in his voice seemed to weigh on him. Gustave thought it must have been exhausting to be the custodian of such knowledge, especially where it concerned the Achard family.

'Several days later, most of Brigit Town was on fire,' said Olivier. His heavy eyes welled with tears. 'The Czenovians had raised a back-up force from New Czenoble within a very short time. It was a surprise attack. And it was this attack that caused me to join the army at such a young age.'

'But if the war looked to be over, why would the Czenovians suddenly attack Brigit Town with such force? I always thought them to be an honorable people.'

Olivier smiled weakly, emptying his pipe. 'They are an honorable people, Gustave. They are. What they did that day was a [i]reaction[/i] to a terrible crime. Just as I began my first duties in the Anovan Army, we all heard the news that Reuben Almagest had been killed. Not only that, but he had been killed in his sleep. Poisoned.'

Gustave's eyes widened. 'But...'

Olivier coughed wearily. 'To kill a man of his greatness and stature in such a cowardly way,' he muttered, 'it is a crime of the highest order. It is a sign of absolute distrust and humiliation. The murder did not just kill Reuben Almagest - it raised the anger and wrath of an entire nation. It was not just the Czenovian soldiers who wanted vengeance, but also the people themselves. Had their national hero died in battle, it would have been a glorious honor. But for him to die in his sleep at the hands of a cowardly dog? Such an act of disrespect is unfathomable and could not go unpunished.'

'So this is why the war continued for so long,' sighed Gustave. 'Did they think it was an Anovan plot?'

At this question, Olivier sat back further in his armchair. He breathed heavily.

'They thought it was Laurent Achard,' he replied.

Gustave stood up, almost dropping the map. 'What?! Why on Earth would Laurent kill Reuben in his sleep like that? He is a soldier...a man of honor! Uncle, surely this can't be true!'

Olivier's eyes did not meet Gustave's. 'I don't know,' he said earnestly. 'But, in my heart, I do not believe it to be true. Laurent retired and as the war ended, he founded Achard & Co. Even then, he was barely seen in public. The rumors and accusations stuck like glue... and ever since, relations between the Almagests and Achards have been strained. This, nephew, is why even now, the two families are suspicious of each other. I suspect that the younger members are unaware of it, but the older members know all too well.'

'Why have you not told the younger members, then? Why are you telling me now?'

'Because,' Olivier sat forward in his chair, 'many years ago, Leonhart and I decided to put an end to the bitterness. We became friends despite it all. And although we may never call ourselves brothers... we made every attempt to ensure that the hatred of the past could not continue with our children and grandchildren. We kept this story quiet for their sake and for the sake of our countries.'

Olivier stood up and approached the office door. 'I am telling you now because I believe that Berthold Black had something to do with Reuben's death. I believe he killed Reuben to perpetuate the war.'

He pointed to the map, which Gustave was still holding. 'And that map,' said Olivier, 'may help to explain exactly [i]why[/i] he wanted the war to continue. I came into possession of this map quite by accident more than a decade ago. I fear that everything we are witnessing now is somehow related.'

'You think the Xear have some relationship with the Mine War?' asked Gustave, his eyebrow raised.

Olivier opened the door. 'Not exactly,' said Olivier, 'but I do think that Berthold Black discovered something about the Xear during his travels before and after the war. He had a [i]reason[/i] to keep it going and I'm not sure why. All I know is, we must discover the nature of this map soon. I do not like where things are going.'

Gustave had to agree, but he could not understand the link between the Black family, the Mine War and the Xear. Perhaps this map was a treasure map of some kind? Did Berthold want to keep the war going as a distraction? Or perhaps he and Laurent had discovered something together and they'd had a falling out - that might explain why Berthold had betrayed him.

It all seemed so outlandish that Gustave was tempted to dismiss the possibilities completely. But his uncle was not prone to wild speculation. The fact that Olivier was so concerned only caused Gustave to worry even further.

'You can keep that map,' said Olivier as he and Gustave walked down the hallway. 'I have no use for it now. Whatever you are looking for, I hope you find answers.'

Gustave nodded. 'Good night, Uncle.'

'Good night,' said Olivier with a yawn. 'Thank you for listening to an old man's stories.'

Gustave smiled and headed towards the staircase. He would sleep in one of the guest rooms, just near Victoria and Liana. As he began to descend, he saw Olivier pause.

'Oh and Gustave... keep an eye on Leonhart, won't you?'

With that, Olivier disappeared down the darkened hallway.[/font][/indent]

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[RIGHT][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Macey_Ellen.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Harrison_Almagest.jpg[/IMG][/RIGHT]

[COLOR="DarkOrchid"][FONT="Times New Roman"][I]Racing far ahead of the others, Macey and the Colonel felt the avalanche, and immediately braced themselves as the chimeras went absolutely berserk. Being more than just proficient as a rider, Macey gripped with her legs, which were mercifully covered in heavy leather riding breeches and tensed up her body to accomidate her chimera's' panic. By degrees, they calmed themselves, and the Colonel came up beside Macey to offer a hand, only to discover that she was perfectly fine and adjusting the reigns slightly to keep her head closer to her chimera's. Macey turned to scan the area behind them and found it completely obscured with snow.[/I]

"Weren't the others right behind us?"

"I believe so, but the trail only goes one way, they're bound to end up here."

"Well if you care to look ahead ever so slightly, I believe that would be our destination."

[i]Macey gestured with a heavily gloved hand, and the beginnings of the canyon were just starting to be visible. Two enormous stelea were standing side by side, constructed of what looked like pure obsidian, and leading into a rather narrow valley.[/i]

"Come on, they'll find us, the shelter will preserve our tracks for them."

[i]The Colonel shrugged and followed along. Macey urged her chimera forward, who was only too willing to get out of the wind. As they did, Macey felt something twitch in the back of her mind, and she turned the chimera so she could get a better look at the two enormous monuments. Remembering something from her research notes, she dismounted and led the chimera right up to the stone. The one on the right was completely covered as far as she could see in Xear writing. And in true Xear fashion, it went from right to left, and every other letter appeared to be outlined with jade. Running over to check the other one, she discovered that instead of jade, there was ivory. Carved in such miniscule patterns, Macey marveled quietly at the stonework while the Colonel hovered behind her.[/i]

"So what does it mean?"

"I really haven't the foggiest idea Colonel. But look at this work. Can you imagine the patience it must've taken? And these words here, they look like something I saw in a book or in an old scroll once."

[i]He opened his mouth to reply when the others finally appeared at the canyon mouth, Ivan and Harrison leading Bavaria's chimera, which appeared to have foundered itself in the ice and snow. She too looked rather foundered, and didn't even notice Macey standing by one of the stele, looking utterly entranced.

Harrison made his way over to deliver his report to the Colonel when Macey pulled him to one side and pointed at a bottom panel.[/i]

"Doesn't that writing look familiar? I could've sworn I've seen it all before."

"I don-"

"Come on Harrison. I can't be the only one."[/FONT][/COLOR]

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

Natalia saw Deacon move into the opening of the object head first, her curiosity, more so than courage, driving her inside the ship behind him, though she hoped nothing would spring up on them.

[B] ?Deacon, wait![/B] She caught up with him easily seeing the inside of the ship, but she was surprised by the size. On the outside, the machine seemed more stream-lined, but inside, she was able to gain an understanding about how bulky it truly was. There were now windows in the room she stood looking at and she saw Deacon about 15 feet away meddling with some of the smooth paneling, knocking here and there to see if any of them gave way.

To her left and right the room opened up to be no more than 20-25 feet on each side but she was happy to see that the room was going to be big enough to herd the chimaera into, that is if they were able to get this contraption off the ground. She looked up. The ceiling was covered in small block like panels that had many signs etched into them that lined up perfectly with the ones surrounding it. But it was only out of hands reach, having a height more or less than 10 feet.

She saw other pieces of metal, in the concern that went from floor to ceiling and although she couldn?t explain it it seemed this pieces were giving off a glow. The room being dimly lit, but Deacon?s light overpowered them showing the true appearance of the room.

[B] ?It?s clean.?[/B] She said, eager at being the one to say it first, making her feel as if she discovered something truly important.

[B] ?What?!?[/B] Deacon stopped his inspection of a panel and turned to look back at Natalia.

[B] ?No dust..?[/B] She started, as she walked a few steps in. She bent over and ran her fingers along the floor of the hold, and stopped, she listened for a moment thinking she heard the humming of the machine change but soon stood up again and looked towards Deacon again showing him her fingers were clean.

[B] ?There?s nothing in here but this. [/B] She held her hands out to emphasize the point. [B] ?I mean where are the spiders, or bugs?? [/B] She rambled off, remembering the old photos she had seen of discovered treasures that were covered in a fine layer of dust or grime, depending on where they were found.

[B] ?Maybe its only been here a short time??[/B] Deacon responded soon turning his attention back to another panel his search ongoing.

Natalia wasn?t happy with that answer, but before she could respond further she heard Bella and Frederic yelling their names.

[B] ?Go get them.? [/B] He signaled towards the entrance with his head turning his work, mumbling even as he did so. Ticked that he was ignoring her answer she thought her cousins may be better suited to answering her questions. Better yet, they may have the same observations.

She moved back to the entrance of the machine, the humming ongoing but more subdued as the chimaera lay close to the entrance bundled together and looking cozy next to the behemoth. She heard a few cooes in response to the humming and knew there was some kind of communication happening between them and she was even more so wished she could understand.

She heard her name again. The noise made the chimaera look up momentarily the humming from the ship also changing. She saw the chimaera snuggle back together as Bella and Frederic approached, the ships tone changing and even subsiding more. Probably to a pitch out of her frequency.

They were a small distance away from the ship, barely visible from the opening but she heard them speak clearly.

[B] ?What is that??[/B] She heard one of them say unable to make out the voice as they were speaking low.

[B] ? Bella! Frederic! Come in!? [/B] She stepped away from the ship and waved them towards the entrance. [B] ?Deacon says it?s a ship. We may have a way out of here. ? [/B]

She moved back to the entrance and waited for them. She heard their steps and whispers As a series of hums and cooes started up again. But her listening in to the conversation was short lived as she re-entered the ship.

Frederic approached Deacon, even as he took in the new surroundings.

[B] ?Anything interesting??[/B] He asked.

[B] ?Nothing at this time that would be helpful.?[/B] He kept moving around the ship tapping on various panels, hoping that one would open and they could better explore the ship.

Bella though was a lot slower to respond her eyes wide.

[B] ?We need to be careful in here.[/B] She stated even as she began to look over the machine more carefully this time.

[B] ?We do need to get out of this cave.?[/B] Deacon returned his thoughts but was still banging, a bit more pressured this time.

[B] ?We don?t know what this is.? [/B] Bella responded curtly. [B] ?And if we do something wrong in here, we may be stuck in this cave longer than we think.?[/B]

Natalia moved into a corner. Her back to the wall of the room as she saw her cousin state her case in the middle of the room. But even as she moved to relax against a seeming solid panel, it gave away making her give a small yell as her butt hit the floor.

She heard everyone move quickly to the opening that revealed a hall about 10 feet long that led to a seemingly dead end.

Natalia laughed nervously as she stood up, and looked around her. The walls feeling cool o her touch as she braced herself on them to stand. And as soon as she did Frederic moved in front of her taking the lead to explore more of the hall.

[B]?There?s a stairwell here.?[/B] He moved up and out of sight.

[B] ?Go!?[/B] She felt a small push from behind by Bella, but Deacon stayed down stairs. She heard him knocking on panels close to them trying to detect if their were any other passages to be discovered.

The halls and stairway were easy to manuever, luckily for Natalia, She just hoped she wouldn?t fall again, feeling embarrassed as is, having been found on the floor twice in about 2 days.

[B] ?Its safe.[/B] She heard Frederic state right before she got to the top of the stairs and there before her seemed to be a control room of sorts, only a few seats scattered about close to the wall but a cylindrical tube was seen in the middle, maybe something to house equipment, but it was green, the same green that the lifeless eyes of the ship held.

[B] ?Are these Xear markings?? [/B] She asked curiously as she stepped close to the cylinder. She traced the markings there as Bella turned from one of the control tables to also inspect it. Even Frederic came to get a closer look.

[B] ?Those are..?[/B] She heard one state.

Natalia?s fingers just continued to trace. The markings. Curious that only two lines, so it seemed existed on this piece in the room. As she kept her hands on it she felt a small bit of vibrations from it.

[B] ?Bella. Touch it.?[/B] She sounded like a child, She even closed her eyes and and placed her face against the column. The vibration turning into a low hum, just like the one heard when they first approached the ship.

[B] ?You sure you felt something?? [/B] Bella said touching the piece as well.

[B] ?Yes.? [/B] Natalia replied simply as she continued to listen to its humming. The pitch of it changing as she continued to listen. The sounds becoming faster and more frequent, even the pitch of it changing more. The sounds lulled her, as they became louder in her head. Even as her cousins spoke. She could not hear them. She felt her eyes close and the sounds became more cluttered in her head, but even though that a low voice rang clearly through her head.

[B][I] A?mu?.net.[/B][/I]
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