AGELESS Campaign Episode 2 - Temple of the Cat-Goddess

Silver Moon

Adventurer's Guild of Exemplary and Legendary Explorers, Scientists and Scholars (AGELESS)

Episode 1: Gateway to the World - Chapters 1 to 40

Episode 2: Temple of the Cat-Goddess - Chapters 41-145

Episode 3: Pending

This Pulp campaign is set on a quasi-historical Earth-like world that also includes the traditional D&D races, classes, magic and deities. This campaign is set on the same gaming world as my Wild West campaigns, although this game will have more of an international pulp flavor than a western. The game will include some characters and players from the previous campaign although most will be new ones. Several historical figures will also appear in this game as both Playing Characters and NPC's.

Playing Characters
1. Nanuet, Male Elf, Ranger3/Cleric3, (Dire Wolf)
2. Ruby West, Female Human, Rogue1/Bard6, (Queenie)
3. George Eastman, Male Human, Ranger1/DivineBard3 (Fenris)
4. Thomas Imamu Sapathwa Crane, Male Half-ogre, Bard2/Monk2 (Animadversio)
5. Roy Huggins, Male Gnome, Fighter1/Rogue3 (Reveal)
6. Abigail Elizabeth Marsters, Female Human, Aristocrat2/Wizard2 (Orchid Blossom)
7. John Wesley Hardin, Male Human, Fighter4 (Oldius Oneius)
8. Benjamin ‘Fish’ Trout, Male Human, Rogue4 (Rusty Halo)
9. Lawrence Cantrell, Male Human, Rogue4 (Kafitrar)

Primary Non-Player Characters
10. James A. Parker, Male Human, Figher1/Wizard3 (SilverMoon/NPC)
11. Wilamina Hamilton Parker, Female Human, Sorcerer5 (NPC)
12. Alsoomse, Female Elf, Druid/Sorcerer (NPC)
13. Pedro Luiz Napoleao Chernoviz, Male Human Cleric/Wizard (NPC)
14. Solomon Star, Male Human (NPC)

World Background:
This world has no Judeo-Christian religious background, with the Greek &Roman deities worshiped as the dominant religion among Western Civilization. The official ‘Greek-Roman Church’ is organized similar to our history’s Roman Catholic Church. Other Pantheons actively worshiped among the Western nations are the Norse and Celtic. Other parts of the world worship the deities native to those regional races and culture. Wizard magic originated on the long-lost island of Atlantis. In addition to “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” Homer’s writings included a third volume titled “Atlantis” which containing Atlantean wizard spells. This book was considered to be heretical and ordered to be destroyed (although copies survived).

Europe had major upheavals during the 14th to 16th century, but rather than it being the Protestant Reformation the conflict was regarding Clerical Magic vs. Wizard Magic. The Clerical-magic countries of Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, Germany, Italy and Greece colonized most of North America. The Wizard-magic countries of France, Portugal and Spain colonized Central and South America. Africa and Asia were colonized by nations of both outlooks.

The original indigenous races of the world are as follows:
England, Wales, Central Europe, southern Europe, Saharan Africa and Mediterranean regions = Humans;
Northern Europe and Scotland = Dwarves;
North America = High Elves and Centaurs;
Central & South America = Wood Elves;
Central & Southern Africa = Ogres and Half-ogres;
East Asia = Orcs and Half-orcs;
India = Goblins;
Australia = Halflings;
Pacific Islanders = Gnomes;
Antarctica = Giants and Bugbears.

The world itself is “low magic”, where the vast majority of the people use little-to-no magic. Most priests, druids, sorcerers, wizards and bards tend to be no higher than 5th Level. In the United States ‘Wizard Magic’ is considered to be witchcraft and is illegal (although many people secretly own a magic item and/or know one or two low-level spell that can discretely assist them in their chosen professions). Great Britain’s Queen Victoria is a staunch opponent of all Wizard Magic. Within the Pro-Wizard Magic nations the tolerance towards Clerical Magic varies widely. France is currently in political disarray as a druidess and her followers recently overthrew the government in a bloodless coup.

Chapter One, “A Trio of Trains”, Friday, September 1st, 1882, 10:30 A.M.

James A. Parker was happier than he had been in months, for today was a very special day. Not only was he going to be reunited with his beloved wife of four-and-a-half years, who he has not seen since the middle of June, but today would also mark the arrival of nine other remarkable individuals who had recently been invited. These friends and associates possessed the skills and talents necessary towards the goal of unlocking the mysteries that James and his current team of archeologists had only just begun to unearth.

After enjoying a fine breakfast with his three colleagues at the house constructed upon the archeological site, Parker set off towards the City of Jacksonville, Florida, approximately twelve miles to the west. The archeological site is situated alongside the Saint Johns River, and for most trips to-and-from the city the usual mode of transportation has been the group’s sailboat. However, for today’s excursion the sailing vessel would have become too overcrowded given the large number of people plus their requisite luggage.

Thus, Parker headed instead over towards his most recent purchase, a brand new Concord Coach, and undraped the canvas cover over it. The Concord brand of stagecoaches were built in Concord, New Hampshire by the Abott-Downing Company, who made three different models designed to comfortably accommodate six, eight or thirteen passengers. For the current venture he had purchased the largest of these, with custom made wider-than-usual (and magically enhanced) wheels to better distribute the weight on the sandy soil of the region. After hitching up the team of six horses to the carriage he set off towards the city.

The First Train
Some fifty-five miles to the north, a southbound train belonging to the Savannah, Florida and Western Railroad has just pulled out of the Brunswick, Georgia train depot. Aboard this train is James Parker’s wife Wilamina Hamilton Parker, her Granddaughter Constance Grace ‘Ruby’ West, Ruby’s fiancé George Eastman and their elvan friend Nanuet, of the Native American Yavapai tribe .

This quartet had left New York City the previous day. The 850-mile journey from New York to Savannah, Georgia had been in the most elegant style, traveling aboard a luxurious Pullman Coach making its biweekly run between the two cities. The custom-made railroad car had spacious individual sleeping compartments as well as an adjacent dining car with a master chef. This group therefore managed to each get not only a good night’s sleep but also a start of the day with a exquisite breakfast, an altogether unusual experience given the state of most 19th century rail travel.

At Savannah the Pullman Coach reached the end of the line. The four needed to then change trains for the final 125-mile leg of the trip. They are now traveling inside a regular passenger compartment of a standard train. Seated in poorly padded bench seats facing each other, Mina looks towards her three companions and smiles.

The Second Train
A train belonging to the Georgia, Southern and Florida Railway is simultaneously departing the depot at Lake City, Florida, now on the eastbound track towards Jacksonville, Florida some seventy miles distant. This depot it situated at an the intersection of two important rail-lines, this specific train having just changed off from the northeast to southwest rail-line that runs a 1,100 mile stretch between Saint Louis, Missouri and Fort Pierce, Florida.

Three individuals on board this train are among those that James Parker plans to meet. Two of these have been travelling inside the First Class passenger compartment of the train, one having boarded in Saint Louis, the other in the southern Illinois town of Metropolis. They are each seated separately as they have yet to be introduced to one another.

The third individual is acquainted with both and had intended to make introductions and converse along the way, but his presence was redirected elsewhere as a result of his race. Doctor Thomas Imamu Sapathwa Crane had recently conducted some research for James Parker at universities and libraries in the cities of Montreal, Quebec and Cleveland, Ohio. From Cleveland he took a southbound train to Nashville, Tennessee where he changed trains to this one heading southeast, upon which his two other colleagues were traveling.

However, despite having a First Class ticket he was denied admittance to the car by the train conductor, whose actions were then supported by the local police, as the good Doctor Crane is of the half-ogre race.

He was similarity refused admittance to both the Second and Third Class passenger cars, being forced to travel inside a freight car. The car was partially filled with hay bales, where some fifteen other ogres and half-ogres were likewise traveling. Adding a further indignity, the freight car was locked from the outside and not opened during any stops for the 500 miles from Tennessee to Florida. This did allow him considerable time for meditative contemplation, interrupted only once when an ogre who thought the Doctor to be asleep attempted to steal from him. When finally released from his confinement and with suitcase in hand, Doctor Crane waited until the last possible second before the train departed from Lake City towards Jacksonville before stepping up onto the steps and railing between the First and Second Class compartments. Ignoring the yells directed at him from workers at the station as the train increased speed, he leisurely climbed up towards the backdoor of the First Class compartment and with his considerable strength pulled the secured door open and stepped inside.

The First Class Concierge immediately moved to intercept him. Doctor Crane then confused the man by politely handing him the appropriate ticket while stating in his British accent, “Here you are good man! I believe this is what you are seeking.” Looking forward he then exclaims, “Ah, there you are!”, having sighted both of the others (which is no great surprise given that every passenger in the car is now looking in his direction).

The first is an old friend of his, a male gnome by the name of Roy Huggins. That particular race was native to Pacific islands and within the United States gnomes had only recently begun to immigrate to the western states of California and Oregon as well as the territories of Washington and Alaska. So not surprisingly, he was the only gnome on this train. Huggins family immigrated to the United States over four decades earlier and has been employed by Parker since that time. Crane and Huggins had both served together during the American Civil War as members of a United States sponsored espionage team led by James Parker. In the years since the war they have only been together twice, at a funeral in 1876 and on an early 1878 mission with the Parkers in Istanbul, Turkey.

The second of these two individuals is an attractive young woman named Abigail Elizabeth Marsters, who he had met a few years back at an academic seminar while she was working on a pair of advanced degrees. He had recently worked with her at another archeological site in England and based upon that experience had highly recommended her services to James Parker.

The Third Train
Situated some ninety miles further west and upon the same eastbound track, also belonging to the Georgia, Southern and Florida Railway, is yet another train. This particular east-west section of track stretches some 1,675 miles from the Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville, Florida all the way to El Paso, Texas at the Rio Grande River along the border of the New Mexico Territory.

This train also has three individuals on board heading to meet up with James Parker. The first of these is the notorious gunfighter John Wesley Hardin. Captured by the law in Pensacola, Florida in 1877, Hardin served nearly five years in a Texas prison before receiving a pardon by the Texas Governor. His time behind bars was a productive one, studying the law, and he passed the Texas Bar Examination upon his release.

Recruited by James Parker to serve a dual role as both lawyer and occasional guard, he has spent the previous week in the Florida capital of Tallahassee seeking reciprocity from the State to practice law. With both the Texas Governor’s pardon in hand as well as depositions from prominent citizens of Pensacola attesting to his good character when he lived there under the alias John Swain, Hardin persuasively made his case.

Earlier this morning Florida’s Governor, the publicity seeking William D. Bloxham, personally presented Attorney Hardin with the needed legal credentials amidst a flurry of reporters and photographers. After refusing to answer any questions and then having to intimidate the most persistent of the reporters to leave him alone, Hardin gathered up his belongings and headed towards the train depot.

Once aboard he sought out the other two men also heading to meet with Parker. The first of these is a young man named Benjamin 'Fish' Trout, a third generation carnival employee who usually winters in Florida, heading back this time from a Texas carnival a few months earlier than usual. This early return to the Sunshine State was prompted by a telegram from Wilamina Hamilton Parker, an interesting older woman that Trout had worked special assignments for on two previous occasions.

The other contact is a male human in his late thirties by the name of Lawrence Cantrell. He had boarded the train in New Orleans, where he had gone there to conduct a special errand for his long-time friend James Parker. Cantrell had served together with Parker during the American Civil War as members of a United States sponsored espionage team.
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Silver Moon

Chapter Two, “Passengers on the First Train”, September 1st, 1882, 10:30 A.M.

Mina looks towards her three companions and states; “I am so glad that the three of you were able to join me for this trip. James promises that Florida should be an interesting adventure for us all.” Her Granddaughter exclaims, "Oh Nana, we are so happy that you and James invited us along!" Ruby stood and stretched, her long legs were cramped in the small space but she didn't care, she was too happy to complain about anything right now. She stepped into the aisle and paced back and forth, her long red hair bobbing up and down on her shoulder as she bounced around.

"I've always wanted to have a GOOD adventure, not some 'crazy outlaws are chasing you and want to kill you in the dusty desert' kind of adventure either. Or 'your Saloon competitor constantly trying to ruin you and kill you' adventure." She looked at her elvan companion Nanuet and smiled though her nose wrinkled, "Or 'creatures of the night wanting to suck the life out of you and keep you for eternity' adventure." It was at that moment she realized she was in a crowded train car and was getting strange looks at her last comments. She continued loudly, "Or SO I'VE READ ANYWAY."

A laugh escaped her full lips and her hazel eyes twinkled with mischief she continued her blabbing. "A REAL adventure! With all my favorite people in the world here! Well, except a few..." She was momentarily lost in her fantasies as she wondered how Kate was doing overseas... how Mr. Gonzales was faring with his wizarding studies... or Dorita and Pedro were doing in the Cantina now that the town had different people in charge... how Chester was managing as Marshal of Promise City... how Jane and Richard and Red were back at their Meeting Hall in Tucson... her mother and new husband and young brother were getting on as a family back in Baltimore.

But as much as she missed her friends her heart was 100% here, with one of her best friends, her beloved grandmother and her much loved fiancé on their way to a new adventure. She practically squealed, "I am just so excited. Are we almost there yet?"

She stopped pacing and plopped down in the seat next to George, taking his hand in hers. "I'm especially happy you decided to join us," she said as she smiled widely at him, with that special smile she had just for him. "It would have been very difficult to participate in this without you, I would have been missing you and longing for you so much, I don't know that I could have done it. Or wanted to." After a long moment of staring at him giddily she slowly pulled her stare away. "And of course Nanuet, who has to come along because SOMEONE needs to save my butt all the time!" She giggled at that thought, even though it was true.

George smiled back at Ruby. "I would not have missed it my dear Constance. In truth, though I still have many ideas for development in the lab, I have missed the excitement of the travels of my younger days. And the opportunity to experience that with you was too great to pass up." he says as he pats her hand again. George puts away his pen and journal where he had been taking notes of the journey and recording notes for the lab. He then stood up and stretched himself and walked a few steps in the aisle. He was getting anxious as well, though he was more calm than Ruby.

Ruby asks, "So Nana, NOW are you going to share some details? I mean, we're soooo close!" "I am honored to be invited to accompany you Mrs. Parker" Nanuet said as he continued to fidget in his seat. Being used to being outdoors and uncomfortable in the confined space Nanuet had kept to himself most of the trip. He was glad that the trip was nearing the end and was interested to see what this land of Florida would be like. He watched Ruby pace and shook his head wondering to himself how may times before had he seen her do the same thing. He smiled at the comment about having to save Ruby's butt and thought about the adventures they had experienced together.

Mrs. Parker replies, "Nanuet, James was very impressed by your dedication last June to rid the world of that awful undead creature which was after my Granddaughter. If you had not been directly involved I fear that neither Ruby nor I would be alive today. You have earned yourself a place in this new Guild of his." Nanuet's expression didn't change at Mina's explanation but he did say, "I was just doing what I thought had to be done. Thank you for thinking so highly of me though, it does have much meaning for me. I'd be interested in hearing some details myself", Nanuet said as he turned his head back to Mina and then to the window watching the landscape fly past.

Wilamina Parker smiles at Ruby. There was a strong resemblance between the two women, with the same vibrant red hair of which Mina's only showed a few white strands intermixed. Looking to be in her mid-to-late-fifties any observer would automatically assume them to be mother and daughter, rather than there being a generation in between. And a mother and daughter relationship also well describes the bond that has grown between these two during the last ten weeks since they have been reunited.

With a smile she says, "I don't want to give away all of James's secrets, he's put a lot of energy and effort into this. I can tell you this, he is assembling an archeology team to investigate the mysteries of one of the very first European settlements in North America." Looking to George and Nanuet as well she adds, "And he plans to offer each of you membership in a new Guild that he is forming, for world explorers, scientists and scholars."

Ruby practically squealed, "That's SO exciting!!! Both parts but mostly of the world travel part. Oh Nana, tell me we're going to be able to go around the world!! George, I have ALWAYS wanted to travel all over! We can have so many fun adventures!" Mina says, "Relax Ruby, I honestly don't know that we're going anywhere soon other than Florida.”

"Mrs. Parker, this guild that is being assembled, what is the goal of it?" asks George. She replies, "It has two goals, one academic and one commercial. It has been formally incorporated in the State of New York and a total of eight offices are being established upon four continents. The commercial goal will be to provide ongoing funding for the academic side, while simultaneously bringing opportunities to the indigenous populations of each region. The academic goal will be world exploration and the expansion of knowledge..." She then lowers her voice and whispers so softly that only the four of them can hear..."knowledge of magic, both wizard and clerical in nature."

Mina says, “The commercial part of the business will be primarily the transportation of local agricultural products. That might not be so exciting unless your idea of fun is spending a month or two on a slow moving freighter filled with bananas and oranges. The academic mystery solving will probably be far more to your liking." Ruby crinkled her nose. "No, no riding with bananas and oranges for me. But anything academic probably isn't for me either, you know I'm not all that smart."

Ruby’s grin was so wide her face hurt. "I can't wait to get started." Looking out the window Mina says, "It will be soon Ruby, we just crossed over the Satilla River Bridge. We're almost to Florida now." Looking back towards George she says, "You may be able to offer some suggestions regarding the commercial side, but it is the academic side that he is hoping you will join Mr. Eastman." He replies, "I shall serve where ever my talents are put to best use. This new, association has lofty, but admirable goals. I am honored to contribute towards the alleviation of suffering among my fellow man." Mina replies, "I believe that you will be able to contribute much to his endeavor, including documentation of our findings using photography. James is very anxious to meet you."

Ruby sighed, "Well, I have never been to Florida and while it may not be as exotic as India or Turkey it's still somewhere new, and that will be exciting in it's own right. If we don't get to travel I'll just have to get my wonderful fiancé to take me somewhere fabulous on our honeymoon." She gave him the big puppy dog eyes and smiled, she knew he would take her anywhere she wanted to go.

George raised an eyebrow at Ruby's cloying display, but his faced softened and he smiled "Of course Constance. Where ever you wish. Do you wish to see Istanbul then? Or the sub-continent?" asks George taking Ruby's hand in his. Ruby's eyebrows furrowed together. "Sub-continent? What is that? I do want to see Turkey..." "The sub-continent refers to the British holdings in south Asia, India and its environs. An area large enough and due to mountain ranges, isolated enough to nearly be a continent on its own." explains George patiently.

Mina laughs and says, "Funny that you should mention both Turkey and honeymoon in the same breath. Istanbul Turkey is where James and I married and honeymooned, on Sunday it will be four-and-a-half years. Now that is an interesting tale of world adventure. James had been asked to go to Istanbul by his friend Secretary of State William M. Evart, to help ensure that the treaty negotiations to end the Russo-Turkish War went smoothly. The United States officially wasn't directly involved, but Evart was an old family friend from Massachusetts.

So James brought myself and several others along, two of whom you will meet later today, to discretely help ensure the safety and security of the negotiations. As it turned out, both the Ottoman Empire and Russia had hired assassins to murder their rival diplomats. We spent six-weeks stopping one assassination plot after another, unbeknownst to any of the diplomats present, and the treaty was eventually settled upon.

During the mission as part of our cover James and I had pretended to be a married couple, a ruse that we had used in the past, although our relationship was actually purely professional and platonic. But unlike the previous times, neither of us was married to anybody else then. So at our team's end-of-mission party to celebrate the successfully treaty signing he got down on his knee and proposed, saying that he had become comfortable with the idea of us as a couple. I was still in shock and contemplating a response when our mischievous friend Roy managed to round up a preacher and within minutes of my agreeing we were wed."

"Nana! You had a sort of shot gun wedding!" Ruby laughed, "That is a great story, you are full of surprises. But it's actually very romantic, the thought of wanting to be together and just... doing it right then because you couldn't bare to wait. Yes, that is totally dreamy..." Mina gives Ruby a wide smile and says, "Yes, and for the most part it has been an excellent marriage, better than the previous marriages for either one of us."

Nanuet also listens to Ruby and her desire for excitement and travel. "Ruby, will there ever be enough excitement for you? I fear not. And as for traveling to new and exciting places there is still so much even in the local area around Promise City to learn and understand. I guess I'll never understand the human desire to flit about from one thing to the next so quickly."

Turning to her elvan friend Ruby says, "Well Nanuet, no, there will never be enough fun and HAPPY excitement for me! I detest being bored, you know that. Imagine every day doing the same thing day in and day out, always knowing what to expect? Like just being a dull and lifeless housewife and mother?" She shivers and throws her hands in the air exasperatedly. "I would just die! As for Promise City, it's all dirt and dust and miners and more dirt. What's there to know?"

In response to Nanuet's quip, George smiles "I am hoping to break Constance of her old habits. Though I may have only ephemeral results." laughs George. Ruby blushed hard, times like this when George used words that were out of her league embarrassed her and the last thing she wanted was to look stupid around George. She stuttered out, "What does epm-ehe-ephemeral mean?" George took Ruby's hand in his. "It means passing or fading. Like the beauty of all other women aside from you." says George earnestly. Looking over at Mrs.' Parker he quickly adds "And of those she is descended from" with a small bow.

"As for Istanbul, I don't speak Turkish, but I know enough Arabic to get along well enough. I will need to brush up on my Hindi if you want to see India. I should look up that Englishman, Richard Burton. He was quite well versed in Hindi and knows the continent well. I have heard he is in Trieste these days I may have to look him up if we get over to Europe."

Ruby let her embarrassment fade away for a moment before she spoke again. "Is this Burton fellow a friend of yours? And, do you plan on bringing him along on our honeymoon? Because, you know, I have some plans for that and they require us being alone." Her lips formed into a grin again, "Mostly." "Where is Trieste? I think you may have to do the planning and surprise me, since you know your geography so well."

"Trieste is in the Austro-Hungarian Empire my dear, over in Europe. But I do not know Sir Burton, but you have given me a wonderful idea. I shall start a correspondence with him, ask him about his travels and for suggestions with Hindi, for a future trip to India. Thank you Constance." George said as he kissed Ruby before pulling out his notebook again and began making a few notes about his plans.

Ruby watched George make some notes, giving him a moment to write. Then she squeezed his hand and bounced in her seat, "Oh George! You're going to take me all over Europe! Do you promise? That would be so wonderful!" She was practically squealing, anyone who knew Ruby knew her dream, well one of them, was to travel. "And you know all about the world so we would just have the most wonderful time ever!"

Nanuet remained quiet and listened to the others converse. He was glad that Ruby had asked the question regarding George's use of tricky words to save him the embarrassment of having to do so. The time spent in Promise City and traveling with Ruby and the others had helped his understanding of the white man's world but he still lacked the social refinement of some of his new companions. "How much longer until we're there. I really need to get some fresh air."

"Poor Nanuet," Ruby leaned forward and patted his hand, most likely giving him a pleasant view down her low cut dress he would blush at, "It's the hardest for you being stuck in here, in this stuffy, cramped place. And poor Maska, riding invisible in the back, alone, in the freight cars. He must be even more miserable. I reckon we'll all need to stretch our legs when we get out. This is really the slow way to travel, compared to other more convenient ways that is. Though that last train wasn't too terrible, nicer than most places I've lived in the past four years."

Nanuet gave Ruby's hand a gentle squeeze before she withdrew it. "A home is what you make of it Ruby, what makes things comfortable is not always the material things but the spiritual ones as well. Yes, Maska and I are both uncomfortable but not terribly so and I wouldn't want to miss out on this. Besides like you said, somebody has to be there to keep an eye on you or as I have heard the expression, 'save your bacon.'"

Ruby giggled at that. "Bacon is quite delicious so I daresay worth saving! You're such a good friend Nanuet. Besides, you elves have so much time to do things, why shouldn't you travel and see the world? In the course of your life, this will be just a moment for you." She looked at him a little jealously for a moment before smiling at him again.

He replies, "Yes Ruby we are a long lived race and could potentially see much of the world but to truly learn from your surroundings I feel you must completely immerse yourself in them and that is a lengthy process. Also, and I say this with as much love as I can, spending time with you has certainly taken a year or two off my life!" Nanuet couldn't help but smile at Ruby as he said the last part.

Ruby's mouth open and shut, open and shut as she stared at the elf before her. He had just managed to do something no one else had, at least not easily, and that was leave her speechless. Finally she gulped and spoke slowly. "Well... I hope that isn't a... bad thing...?" She looked at him like a child who was guilty over being caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Without looking up from his notes George added dryly "Don't worry my dear he has more than enough to spare."

"George!" she gave him a playful smack but with a horrified look on her face. "That's not nice." She tried to keep a straight face but giggled anyway. She knew Nanuet would have a sense of humor about George's attempt at humor. Nanuet laughed lightly and nodded at George after he made his comment. "True enough, true enough. And Ruby, I hope you know me well enough to know that I meant that in good fun and as a good thing. I have experienced more in the time I have known you than I have in the rest of my life combined. I wouldn't trade it for anything either."

"Of course I do Nanuet and I know you were only teasing me. That sense of humor of yours is coming around nicely." The grin on her face faded but only a little. "Yes, we certainly have been through some times, good and bad alike. I don't think most people would believe us if we told them our adventures together. But friends stay true and you and I shall be lifelong friends. And when I am old and wrinkled and you are still young and handsome you will lie to me and tell me I am the most beautiful woman in the world because you are such a good friend. Right?"

George looks up and takes Ruby's hand "I will always tell you that you are the most beautiful woman in the world, and it will never be a lie Constance." says George with a smile. Ruby smiled lovingly at the handsome man besides her before leaning into him and kissing him warmly on the lips with just a little too much passion for public displays of affection. "You're so sweet baby," Ruby cooed at him as she gazed into his eyes. George gazed back into the eyes of the woman he loved, had always loved. He leaned his forehead against Ruby's and held her hand in his. "I just tell the truth Constance." George replied kissing Ruby back. "Well good. I enjoy the truth. When it's good anyway. When it's not, feel free to lie."

Nanuet says, "Ruby, Ruby, Ruby. Beauty has nothing to do with wrinkles. Beauty is so much deeper than that. You have always been a pretty girl, and I have little doubt that years from now your beauty will be a wonder to behold." She gazed at her friend for some time and wondered how well he knew her - how she had actually considered what it would be like to always be 18 years old and beautiful for eternity. She hadn't let herself think on it too much, the thought that she pondered it for a moment - a long moment- was enough to make her shudder.

"Nanuet you are very sweet but you are so different from me. After all, without my ravishingly good looks what would I have? Besides my sweet voice? And my future husband's money?" She stared at him for a long moment besides bursting into laughter. Nanuet always, always made her laugh. "Thank you for the compliment my friend. Your unique way of thinking of things is very helpful." He says, "One as confident as you Ruby, I am surprised you feel you have nothing to offer the world besides your looks and charms. I have a feeling your contributions to society will far outweigh what your expectations are."

George had his head in his notebook as Ruby spoke, pausing to add an emphatic yes at key places and offer a reassuring smile. His head was in two places, his work and with Ruby. He was learning to balance those together. Constance had certainly changed his life very quickly the last few months. Yet his work was as much a passion for him as Constance was, not that she enjoyed sharing any of his time or attention. Still she viewed it as a necessary evil. Still George was excited. He had been cooped up in his lab a long time, and it had been ages since he had gotten out for some excitement. And this was something he could sink his teeth into, this guild business.
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Silver Moon

Chapter Three, “Passengers on the Second Train”, September 1st, 1882, 10:30 A.M.

Roy stood up on the seat and waved at the ogre, trying to get his attention. "Get your big butt over here, Doc!" he yelled out. "Stop making that poor man piss himself." Roy chuckled as he said this. Roy made a seat for Doc Crane. "So what have you been up to, Doc?"

Nonplussed by the all-too-familiar routine of contempt and discrimination towards ogres (not allayed in the slightest on part of the offenders by his mixed human-ogre heritage), Thomas smiles fondly at his diminutive friend as he strides the length of the car in a few steps, passing by the gaping mouths and shocked expressions of the other passengers.

"Ah, my dear Huggins, it is good to see you again, my friend. I see that little has changed with you: you seem rather healthy and hale, and your penchant for the use of the vernacular of the gutter has obviously locked your sense of propriety in mortal combat and dispatched it with aplomb."

Thomas sets his intricately and elaborately carved walking stick, taller than Roy, against the car's bulkhead, dropping his carpetbag to the floor in front of the gnome, and pushes it beneath the seat bench. He sits down upon the seat across from Roy, the wooden and iron frame creaking loudly from the weight and bulk of the half-ogre. He pulls his spectacles off, examines them for dust, wipes them deftly with a handkerchief, sets them back upon his face, and looks down at Roy (whose face is still well below his despite both being seated) flashing a smile that splits his deeply-brown ogrish face wide.

"It really is good to see you again, Huggins. As to what I've been "up to", as you put it, I suppose the answer you would be expecting in your parlance would be... shall we say, a little of this and a little of that? Since the Turkish affair when we last met, I've spent a great deal of time on my estate in Bermuda, studying the old philosophers and their brilliant musings, which appear to us as simple as a infant's first steps, into the realm of the physical sciences, particularly Heraclitus' theories on the immutability of change itself.

I can see you have absolutely NO idea what I'm talking about. No matter! Let's see... oh yes, there was that bit of business with young Watson and the Ogre soccer team in Scotland, which would have been the last time I saw James and Miss Mina ... sorry... Madam Parker. I must confess that does take a bit of getting used to, don't you think? And then..."

Thomas will continue on for so long as Roy will let him, as he always relishes the opportunity to converse at length with an old friend, oblivious to whether or not he's retaining the interest of said friend. His near solitary existence on Bermuda provides him little in the way of good conversation, and his excitement at being reunited with his companions again has given him plenty of enthusiasm to fuel his musings and ramblings.

Roy listened to Doc drone on and on about his theories and such. He was used to the Doctor talking over his head, usually more figuratively than literally. Roy always thought it interesting that Doc, especially in the situation of obvious racism that was taking place on the train, would still consider Roy intellectually inferior. You would think the Doc would have learned a thing or two about judging a book by its cover.

The first time it happened, Roy had told the Doc to go **** himself. However, after years of working together, Roy realized the Doc didn't do it on purpose. Roy always assumed it was his years alone in Bermuda that made it difficult for Doc to talk to others. Regardless, they had quickly become good friends and made a very "interesting" team, to say the least.

As it stood, Roy just let the Doc be Doc and nodded his head at the appropriate times as he half listened to him. He was more interested in what Mr. Parker had in store for them. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's great Doc," Roy said to the hulking brute after 10 minutes of non-stop talking. "So what do you think Mr. Parker is gonna show us?"

Sensing that Roy probably wasn't interested in an extended discussion of Pre-Socratic theories of epistemology and being, Thomas leaned down and pulled his carpetbag up to root around for one of the many texts he was devouring of late, picking out a particularly interesting one on the unique alchemical properties of the soils, plants, substrata, and mineral composition of northeastern England. He settled back in his seat, and looked up and around to catch the attention of a porter.

"I am a bit hazy on the details from Parker's communiqué, other than something about a pre-colonial archaeological find of some import. Drat! I do believe that porter is deliberately ignoring me." Sensing his temper on the edge of fraying, Thomas lets out a deep calming sigh, somewhat frustrated by the continued contempt being shown to him by the train's staff.

"Huggins, do us a favor, if you will. I could really stand a spot of tea and a biscuit or three to take the edge off my appetite -- perhaps a loaf of bread as well, and several apples. Could you catch that fellow's attention and see if you can make any headway towards service for us? I've neither the energy nor the inclination to continue to make a fuss with these benighted souls who seem rather determined to keep alive the attitudes of a bygone era. I don't really think it would be productive for any of us if I get any more irritated by the current situation, and as I am quite hungry, I am growing more likely to lose my temper ... which would be most unfortunate."

Roy chuckled at the mention of Doc's temper. It's what made them a good team. Both were working hard on controlling their tempers. Doc seemed to have a better handle on it than Roy does, though, so Roy knew Doc must have been really upset to ask Roy to handle it. Roy stood and made his way to the closest employee on the train. "Excuse me, where can I get something to eat on this train?" he said as politely as possible.

The First Class Concierge tells him "Er, um, well, yes sir. I believe that we have available for the main entree a seared line-caught cod in a Beaujolais-and-rosemary sauce and served with freshly baked twelve-grain whole wheat roll and a side of a sliced fruit medley which includes both empire apples and freshly picked Florida oranges. For dessert we have available a delightfully made French pastry of a vanilla-chocolate pyramid with a subtle topping that hints of an impeccably creamy crèmes brûlées. A fine Italian red wine comes with that as the beverage. Does that meet with your approval sir?"

Roy grins slightly and decides to press the man a bit and says, "And if it doesn't?" He replies, "Then I can recommend to you a number of restaurants in the Jacksonville area that you can visit upon your arrival...Sir." Roy kept grinning. He had seen the Concierge's type before. Since the guy worked in the first-class, he decided that he was first class as well. Roy decided to play with this one a little bit.

"Look here son, I know that being the First Class concierge is a hard job. You have to make sure that everyone is happy. See that woman over there?" Roy pointed to the older woman with the large brimmed hat. "I'm sure she's happy." "And that guy?" Roy will then point to the younger gentleman who was, at the moment, trying to make the acquaintance of an obviously uninterested young blonde woman. "He seems really happy."

"Now look over there." Roy pointed at the Doc. "He's not happy; not one bit. He's tired, grumpy, and hungry. It's really not a good combination." "And now look down here." Roy pointed at himself. "I'm not happy. Now, why am I not happy? I'm glad you asked."

Roy's grin faded and he spoke quietly but firmly. "Here's what you're going to do to make me happy. You're going to bring two of the full course meals over to where my friend and I are sitting. One for me and one for him. Then you're going to bring me a whiskey and a beer. And then you are going to apologize to my friend for keeping him waiting for his meal. In that order." Roy's eyes narrowed. "Because, if you don't, I won't be happy. And you don't want to make me unhappy." Roy's fingers twitched as they always did in these situations.

The man replies, "Yes Sir, the dinner for both you and your servant. Now is your beverage request a substitution for the wine or in addition to it?" "Wine. Then whiskey. Then beer." Roy smiled broadly and good-naturedly slapped the man on the arm. "We'll be waiting patiently for your arrival." Roy made his way back to his seat and plopped down across from Doc. "We shall be fed shortly. And try to look somewhat menacing when we are, okay Doc?" Roy said with a wink.
Puzzled at Roy's insistence at why he needs to be menacing, Thomas returns to his book, thankful that sustenance was on the way, in no small part to Roy's directness and amazing ability to always convince people to see things his way. Thomas believed Huggins to be, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating people that he'd ever met in all of his travels and dealings, and despite his sometime crude bearing and quick temper, he knew him to be one of the most decent and upstanding men he'd ever know.

The man heads to the rear of the First Class Compartment to a three-by-five foot section to the left of the aisle. He spends ten minutes banging around and then emerges, pushing a sliding cart upon which are two silver platters with lids, a glass and a mug. He reaches where the two adventurers are seated and attempts to place a pair of thin wooden platforms with folding legs over the laps of the two men, but the frames were made for humans so Doctor Crane's is too small with him having to place it directly atop the half-ogre's knees. Roy's on the other hand is too large and so he hurries off, soon returning with a pillow to better prop the platform above Roy's lap.

He then places a frosty-mug of beer and a double-sized shot glass of whiskey in front of Roy on the platform side and then places the two trays on the platforms. The lids are removed to reveal the food, which doesn't exactly live up to the five-star descriptions. It consists of an open-faced fish sandwich with a thin slightly warm filet on one piece of slightly warm bread with a teaspoon-sized amount of a red jelly on the other piece. Beside that on each platter are half-an-apple and half-an-orange with the core and peelings removed, and a glass half-filled with a grape juice that barely smells of alcohol.

Looking up from his book when the food arrived, Thomas did his best to put a menacing frown on his face, but given Roy's smile and shake of the head, and the apparent lack of concern on part of the steward as he walked away, Thomas figured that the glance, without any real meanness behind it, probably made him look more constipated than intimidating. Honest to a fault, Thomas simply didn't do guile and deception well. Thomas politely acknowledged the arrival of the steward, deeply absorbed in his book, absentmindedly lifting it as the steward fussed with the pillow on his lap. He muttered a quiet "thank you ever so much" without lifting his eyes from the book.

Roy looks at his tray and starts laughing. "Holy ****, boy. This is the food you got all snooty about? My mother can cook better food than this and she's a horrible cook!" Roy reaches out, grabs the whiskey, and downs it. He stops laughing and looks at the concierge. "Ain't you forgettin' somethin'?" The man says, "I will bring out the French pastries at the completion of your meal Sir". He then points to the now empty shot glass and asks, "Would you care for a refill?"

Hearing Roy's laughter, Thomas looked up, set the book down, and lifted his platter cover. Seeing the quality (or obvious lack thereof) of the food being served, Thomas' equanimity turned quickly to cold anger. He knew that the mediocre-at-best fare before was not the customary standard for first-class dining in the American rail system. "Oh no," he said quietly, with real menace in his voice, "this will not do. This will NOT do."

The Concierge looks towards the half-ogre and with a slight quiver to his lip and a bead of perspiration appearing on his brow states, "I'm truly sorry, but this is all that we have remaining. The First Class meal was served to those in this car back while we were traveling between Atlanta and Macon, Georgia" Gesturing towards Roy he states, "I believe that your employer was napping at that time. For you to have received one of those meals you would have needed to board the train earlier than Lake City, Florida."

Roy just sat back to watch the show. "This should be good," he thought to himself. "Employer? Oh yeah, this'll be great." Roy kicked his legs out, put his hands behind his head, and smiled grandly.

Thomas gave the Concierge a hard look, his anger rising. Seeing the obvious discomfort of the man, a hint of fear in his eyes, Thomas decided that the man was likely telling the truth. If not, Thomas thought to himself, well, as the esteemed Orc philosopher Sun Tzu once wrote, "He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight." Thomas had spent his entire life fighting a war to preserve his dignity and honor in the face so much public contempt and hatred for his kind, and sometimes it was difficult to remember which battles were the truly important ones, and which ones were not.

This one, Thomas thought, was not. "Fine, fine," Thomas said, nodding dismissively at the man's pleas. "Firstly, Mr. Huggins is no more my employer than I his. We are peers and travelling companions, as hard as that might be for you to understand. With respect to the disappointing meal before us, I am not ungrateful for your efforts in preparing what you did have available for us. Perhaps an additional loaf of bread and a few more apples might make the difference, and we can only hope that the next time I travel First Class on this line will see a marked improvement in how I am served." With that, Thomas continued to hold the man in his stern gaze, awaiting his response.

Without a second's hesitation at being dismissed without any bodily harm the man hurries back to the rear of the car as quickly as he can, and from the sounds heard, is rapidly preparing the food. He rushes back within three-minutes of his departure with a very full wooden tray atop which are twelve cored apples, seven pealed oranges, nine pieces of bread, a small ceramic bowl with the red jelly, a plate with butter and two butter knives, and nine small sugar cookies each with three dabs of different sauces atop (those apparently being the aforementioned French pastries). Also on the tray is the whiskey refill.

Before the concierge put the tray down, Roy helped himself to a handful of cookies. "I know you're trying to watch your sugar intake," Roy said through a mouthful of cookie. "And you know I'm always happy to help you resist temptation." Thomas barely suppresses a smile at the rapidity with which the concierge retreated, followed by his near-immediate return with the abundantly filled tray. The ancient wisdom of the Orc warlord rang true: sometimes victory is won by avoiding the battle altogether.

"Top notch, top notch, my good man!", Thomas said to the man, reaching into his large vest pocket for the customary tip, placing it into the concierge's hand as he set the tray down, raising a bemused eyebrow as Huggins quickly pilfered a handful of the cookies. Roy swallowed big and rinsed his mouth with the fresh whiskey, gulping it down as well. "Aaaaah! I really do love our time together, Doc. There's always somethin' goin' on that'll make a great story to tell," Roy said with a wink.

Thomas replies, "Indeed, indeed, Huggins. But where are my manners? Here I've been, going on about my studies and myself. Tell me what you have been ... what was the expression -- 'up to?' -- since we last met. I am sure whatever it was, that is also a great story." As Roy listened to the question, he noticed, over Doc's shoulder, the young woman get up and start walking in their direction. "We'll catch up later, Doc. Besides, you know me," Roy said as he sat up and ran a hand through his hair. "Nothing like living in the present."

A few seats behind the oddly matched pair having a late lunch a young woman had fallen asleep reading a small book. The racket made by the concierge finally managed to wake her; wide blue eyes blinking behind the spectacles that had gone askew when her head had lolled against the window. Abigail straightened the spectacles, patted her hair and closed the book. As far as she could tell there was only one person in that seat up ahead, and he was the man she had been looking for. Walking forward she heard him speaking to someone else, then saw his diminutive companion.

"Dr. Crane," she said with a smile, making free with one of his cookies. "How lovely to see you again." To the surprise and even horror of some of the other passengers, she then leaned forward and kissed the ogre on the cheek. "I'm sure you'll introduce me to your companion who I'm also sure has a fascinating story to tell." Roy slid over to make space for the young woman. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Ma'am. My name's Roy Huggins. And you are?" He took the woman's hand as she sat down and kissed it lightly. He then held it gently between his hands, as if it needed protecting.

"Abigail!" Thomas sputtered in surprise, completely taken aback, and flushed from the kiss. He turned, rising abruptly out of courtesy, almost knocking over the tray of food, and rammed his head into the low bulkhead of the car, designed for those less than seven feet tall. "Ow!" He sat down just as quickly, rubbing his head, struggling to recover his poise in order to make an introduction of Huggins to Abigail ... a useless effort, it seemed, as the two were already engaged in conversation, completely unaware of (or too polite to note) his pratfall.

She replies, "Abigail Marsters. But you were about to tell a fascinating story. I love stories, especially ones that tell me a bit about my new companions. You are coming with us to meet the Parkers, aren't you? New companions and a mysterious quest sound just about right to me." "Oh indeed it does Abigail," Roy says, still holding on to her hand. "As for my tale, it's nothing special. Have you ever heard of a place called... Katmandu?"

And once again, Thomas marveled at his complete dumbfoundedness and outright clumsiness whenever he found himself in the presence of a beautiful and genteel woman ... and most particularly THIS woman, Miss Abigail Marsters. It was as if he was anything BUT an Oxford-educated doctor of natural sciences and archaeology, seasoned by decades of world travel, intrigue and war, as experienced in the ways of the world as one could be.

Instead, he became a shy, bumbling, fumbling near adolescent, variably incapable of the most basic discourse and rational behavior whenever he was anywhere near Abigail Marsters. By great Zeus' beard, Thomas was thankful that Abigail's attention was turned completely away from him, as Huggins related his wondrous tales of his adventures in Katmandu. Although his skin was as brown as his mahogany cane, he was sure, despairingly so, that his embarrassed blushing must be patently and horrifically obvious.

Even as Roy began his story, Abby used her free hand to help right the Doctor's tray, putting cookies and fruit to rights. In the process she stole an apple and leveled a smile at him, continuing to make occasional eye contact as Roy spoke, not wanting him to feel she was ignoring him in favor of his companion. The gnome Roy says, "Well, it's beautiful country and I'd love to visit there someday, but I'm talking about the Katmandu trading company based out of Chinatown in New York. "

"It all started last year, when I was contacted by one Lo Feng. He had heard that I had a good eye for reading people, so he asked me to join him on an upcoming business transaction with this Russian trading group called the Muscovy Company. So I'm sitting there, in this dingy office in some dockside warehouse, when this huge bear of a man walks in. Now when I say "bear of a man" I mean that literally. The man was as hairy as I'd ever seen and his nose was a bit longer than it should have been. I also noticed his fingernails were really claws. I asked later what the hell he was and was told he was a "lycan." Apparently they're some kind of half-man, half-animal critter."

"Anyway, so the bear sat down and didn't say a word. He just stared at Lo Feng and me. A lesser gnome would have been nervous in a situation like that, but not me. I never broke eye contact. I think I made him sweat a bit. Five minutes later, this older man in a suit, this one was normal looking, comes walking in and Lo Feng got up and shook his hand. This guy was named Yuri and he apologized if Ivan, the bear, had startled us. Lo Feng said it was not a problem and that they should get down to business."

"For the next few hours, Yuri and Lo Feng discussed everything under the sun, from family to shipping rates. If I hadn't known any better, I would have thought the two had been friends for years. To tell you the truth, the only thing that kept me from falling asleep was that I was so fascinated by Ivan. You see, he had an interesting tell. Every time Lo Feng would bring up money, whether talking about dock fees or bribes to local officials, Yuri's left foot would silently tap the floor twice. Not in a big way, mind you, but very subtly. I'm sure it wasn't a conscious decision on his part but then tells usually aren't. I knew something was wrong but I kept my mouth shut."

"Anyway, when it was all done, Yuri and Ivan got up and left, Yuri thanking Lo Feng for his time. After they were gone, I told Lo Feng what I saw and told him that I thought Yuri was planning on cheating him somehow. Lo Feng was grateful for my assistance and told me that he'd be in contact. I had pretty much forgotten about the whole deal until about a month later when I received a package. In it was a very nice pocket watch and a letter. The package was from Lo Feng and the letter was extremely interesting. It seems that, since our meeting, Lo Feng had kept tabs on Ivan. Ivan eventually led Lo Feng to a plot by Yuri to try to take over all of the trading business currently done by Katmandu."

"In his letter, Lo Feng said that he took care of them and that they would not bother him again and that the watch was a token of appreciation for my work." Roy let go of Abby's hand and pulled out a nice pocket watch he was currently wearing. "Not bad for a couple hours work, eh?" She replies, "Not bad at all. So is that your work? Reading and understanding people? I noticed you working the concierge a bit. I suppose whatever the Parkers need us for requires people of unusual talents. Do you have others?"

"It's not the only thing I do. I'm also an excellent card player. And my reflexes are second to none. I can usually outdraw any man, or woman, if they try to pull a weapon on me. Ask the Doc; he'll tell ya." Roy nodded at Doc as he said this, hoping he'd remember the mission in Turkey and how he'd thrown up the silver platter just in time to stop the bullet aimed at the Russian ambassador. "So how do you two know each oth..." Roy trailed off as he glanced at Doc. Something was obviously wrong with him.

Silver Moon

Chapter Four, “Passengers on the Third Train”, September 1st, 1882, 10:30 A.M.

John Wesley Hardin slides down the aisle of the train with practiced ease, avoiding wayward elbows and outstretched feet with with fluidity. Earlier, he had allowed to porter to stow his larger valise in the baggage car, but the hint of a frown and the hardening of his eyes had warned the elderly negro away from the smaller bag. The heavy bag that rings with the faint bell of metal upon metal as it brushes a seat back.

A flat smile, devoid of mirth, flits across Hardin's face as he scans the First Class car, searching. His eyes scan back and forth across the nattily dressed businessmen, so with their wives or mistresses, probing for hidden weapons. He notes a hideaway gun in a waistsash and another in a boot-top but the passengers, for the most part, seemed to be unarmed. Habit forces a quick look back over his shoulder to see if anyone is watching with too much interest. Momentarily mollified, the set of his shoulders relaxes and his free hand drops away from the butt of one of the Colt 1877 Lightening pistols sewn artfully into his suit-vest.

The ends of his mouth turn up a bit more as he says to himself, "Damn it's good to be free!" He notes a pair in a quad-seat that look a bit out of place - one gangly youth that looks like he made a wrong turn coming out of the big-top sitting across from a man that has "The Look" about him. That man glances up, meeting Hardin's steady gaze. His eyes flick down, taking in the well-concealed brace of pistols and taking the Texan's measure. He glances back up and nods imperceptibly. Hardin stops in front of their seats and tips his hat. "I suspect you would be Trout and Cantrell...I'm Hardin. Do you mind?" He motions to a seat with the bag-hand and waits expectantly.

Benjamin ‘Fish’ Trout is busy whittling a sturdy chunk of soft wood with an elegant-looking jacknife. The shavings fall around his ankles. "You must be that sharp-shootin' Texan just won himself a pardon, no? Please join us, Mr. Hardin!" he says, grinning earnestly. Cantrell looks up at Hardin. He says, "Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Hardin." The forger waves at the empty spot. "By all means, have a seat. Ben here was just telling me a story of his former life."

Trout says, "Larry, please. My friends call me Fish!" His pale blue eyes sparkle. "Lydia the Tattooed Lady gave me the nickname when I was 14. She said,'The boy needn't breathe, it seems.'" He grins lasciviously. Ben's voice is warm, almost melodic -- but there's a gravelly quality to it too, as though he is accustomed to shouting. His puckish demeanor is difficult not to like. Lawrence slaps him on the back and says, "Fish it is then." With a wink, Fish asks, "Mr. Hardin, sir: is it true what they say about a Texan and his hat?"

Hardin tries to suppress a grin and fails and starts laughing as he takes the indicated seat. "Well...I haven't been to Texas in a while...being otherwise occupied. But a gentlemen never shares such secrets anyway, so I might have ta let you wonder on that for a bit longer. If you ever get by El Paso again, though, ask around for Shady Sadie and I am sure she will tell you...for a price!" Hardin seems to think his own "joke" is quite funny and laughs again, slapping his own knee...

While the three men are making their introductions a young human woman also makes her way down the center aisle. She has long curly brown hair, a shapely body and a face that one would have considered pretty if not for her long oversized nose. Despite this, Trout still takes an active notice of her as she passes by. She takes an empty seat in the bench immediately behind where Cantrell and Trout are seated. While he is talking to the men the observant Hardin notices that she reaches into her shoulder satchel and removes a notebook and fountain pen and begins writing.

Hardin's smile fades and his eyes narrow as the woman produces reporter's tools. Cantrell is taken aback by the sudden turn in Hardin's countenance, from mirthful to deadly serious in the blink of an eye. He stares hard at the young woman, lips a razor thin line. "Damn reporters..." The whisper sounds like the hiss of an angry rattler...

Fish stands, as though in polite deference to Hardin's arrival. As he does, he deliberately fumbles the chunk of wood that he was whittling over the back of their seat into the lap of this mysterious woman. He then scoots past Hardin and, manufacturing a blush, introduces himself to her.

When Fish moves suddenly, Hardin's hands are a blur, moving impossibly fast... He has his pistols halfway out of their concealed vest holsters before he sees the falling wood. With a barely audible grunt and another flinch, his hands are back at his sides. He looks past Fish towards Cantrell and offers a slight shrug as he relaxes back into his seat. "Old habits die hard..." He smiles again, but it stops well short of his eyes...eyes that look like they belong to an old man...not someone a few months shy of his 30th birthday.

Lawrence raises an eyebrow at the display and says, "Mighty impressive Mr. Hardin. I take it you didn't learn that for show." Hardin chuckles grimly and says, "I was...intemperate in my youth. Fortunately age - and an extended holiday - have shown me the path of righteousness. I stay in form to guard against those who may not have faith in my redemption."

Cantrell guffaws. "Youth is the time for intemperance. My own youth in Delaware was ill-spent. The war forced me to focus on what was important. Did you serve?" Hardin shakes his head. At the next bench Fish states, "I'm terribly sorry, miss! Riding trains make me so nervous!" He studies her reaction. She smiles at him in a friendly manner while simultaneously shutting her notebook. She says in a Southern accent "No need to apologize Sir, just try to be more careful in the future." Fish crouches to retrieve his whittled chunk of wood from the floor of the train. He attempts to disguise the glance he casts up the woman's skirt.

Hardin offers Cantrell another crooked grin and slides his eyes back over to the young woman seated behind Cantrell and Trout. She notices Hardin's attention towards her and puts away her notebook and pen in her travel bag. She then gets up and heads down the train to an empty seat around ten feet further away. Hardin feels a slight twinge of guilt as the young woman moves away and silently berates himself, “C'mon, John, quit picking on little's not like she was a Ranger or someone else out to get you.”

Fish retakes his seat and looks out the window. "Not that I would know, but I've been told that a traveling circus provides great cover for moving covert intelligence..." Hardin returns to his seat and focuses on his new companions, but steals a occasional glance at the young woman to see what she is about. The young lady appears to now be reading a book while seated in the aisle seat three rows away. Cantrell replies, "I hear you, Fish. I hear journalists can get into all sorts of places too."

Hardin snorts, "I don't have any problem getting into difficulty is more in getting out. " do you two know Mr. Parker?" While waiting for them to answer, Hardin's mind wanders back to a very sticky situation on the wrong side of the Rio Grande involving Parker, some wizard magic and a very unfriendly customs agent... Cantrell replies, "James and I go way back., to the War as a matter of fact. We, uh, served together. Went all over the place. I haven't seen him in a few years, but we've kept in touch by cable."

Fish says, "I don't know Mister Parker, sir. I am acquainted with his wife, Lady Wilamina. I suppose one could describe what I have done for her as 'courier' work: 'retrieving' and delivering something she'd ordered. She pays well too! Charming woman."

The train continues for another hour and then makes a short stop at a major train depot with multiple train turnarounds. The Conductor pokes his head in the car and says, "Lake City, change trains here for Atlanta". An older couple get up and depart. Hardin checks both entry doors - out of habit - several times before the train starts moving again.

Back on the first train, reflecting upon the comments that she made regarding her current marriage, Wilamina Parker’s facial expression then changes and with a sigh she adds, "Our only real problem has been with James's daughter. Since he and I have known one-another for over a half-century she is now convinced that ours was a long-time love affair and that he was unfaithful to her mother. Her constant innuendo on that subject was what led us to move out of the Parker mansion in Newburyport, Massachusetts and to my house in Tarrytown, New York. They now haven't spoken in over two years."

Ruby says, "Oh, that's sad. You would think this girl would want to see her father happy! And you two are certainly happy," she grins. "What's this girl's name and how old is she? If I ever bump into her I'll have to set her straight." Mina replies, "Her name is Mary and you probably will meet her at some point, as James plans to use the Mansion again as one of the meeting places for the Guild. Newburyport will be one of the eight shipping offices, which the father of the aforementioned Roy will be managing for James. That probably will not help James and Mary's relationship much, as both of Roy's parents had worked exclusively for her these last few years."

"Roy, one of the men we're meeting here in Florida?" Ruby pondered for a moment. "His father is a house manager? What does Roy do? I mean, he got this job because of his father?" Mina says, "Oh no, Roy is a fellow adventurer, he got this job as a Guild member due to his skills and past experience working with James. Roy and his parents first came to America a little over four decades ago from an island in the south Pacific. They've worked for the Parker's ever since. Roy likes to travel but his father is happy staying in Massachusetts, and James wants somebody he can trust managing each of the commercial offices of the business. James's son and uncle will each manage two of the foreign offices."

"South Pacific you say?" Ruby's eyebrows came together, a sure sign she was thinking hard. "Is he not... human? I am ashamed to admit I don't know all my history and geography." She continued to speak to herself as if she was working out a complex problem, "I wonder, is that where my friend Chumbley the halfling is from or was that Australia? Kate would remember." She sighed and shrugged, "I suppose I will have to remember to ask her. Nana, what kind of people come from the South Pacific?"

Mina replies, "Roy and his parents are gnomes, little people, even smaller than dwarves." Ruby blinked a few times. "Little people? I wonder if I have ever met a gnome before? I didn't think anyone was smaller than a dwarf…except maybe a halfling... perhaps I have in my travels. Well, this Roy fellow sounds interesting I would say."

Ruby adjusted her legs and turned her body, the hard and straight seat was not exactly comfortable and they had been traveling so long already. She was just itching to get off this train and get started. "This Mary, I am sure we'll get along just fine, after all, we are related by marriage, right? How long can she hold a grudge over her father being happy anyway, that's just silly." Mina says, "I'm not so sure. The bad blood between her and her father predates our marriage. She still blames him for a broken engagement between her and a prominent Boston aristocrat, which occurred almost a decade ago. She also blames him for her parent's divorce even though it was her mother who initiated it and not James."

Ruby replies, "A broken marriage to a prominent aristocrat you say? Do you know the story, I am curious to hear it and why she would hold a grudge so. As much as I know James he is nothing but kind and helpful and you love him so much I can't see he would have any faults." Mina replies, "A broken engagement, not marriage, he refused to marry her after....." (Mina then lowers her voice and leans forward, saying softly to Ruby, so low that Nanuet and George can barely hear). "After Mary told him she would only be able to have one or two children. Having a son to carry on the family name was very important to him, so he ended the engagement."

Mina continues, "Mary blamed James because, well, it actually was his fault, a side effect of magic that we use to prolong our aging process. That's why I was only able to have the one child and James has only sired two, and each with a different former wife. The longer-life is also passed on to our immediate children, you'll notice that your mother for example looks at least a decade younger than her chronological age but you'll also note that she has only had two children, and each from a different father."

Ruby says, "Oh I didn't know that. About the children part of... you know." Now that she thought about it her mother did look quite good for her age. She knew her Nana did but she had been the one to use the magic, the same life prolonging magic Ruby was eager to use when she was old enough. She hadn't spoken to George about this yet and wasn't certain how he would feel about it. Nor had they really spoken about children, Ruby had conveniently avoided that topic. She glances sideways at her fiancé and realized it was not fair to him to not discuss these topics so she made a vow to do it... soon.

Mina says, “As for his divorce, it was actually his wife who left him, she ran off with a European Prince. But Mary is now convinced that she only did that because he was unfaithful first, which was not the case."
Ruby asks, "A European Prince? However did that happen?" Mina says, "In January of 1874 James and his wife Eleanor were invited guests at the wedding of Queen Victoria's son the Duke of Edinburgh to the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia. Simultaneous to the ceremony a group of Italian thieves broke into the Queen's castle and stole a very precious heirloom.

So James and two of his friends decided to then follow the trail of the thieves across the English channel. Leaving Eleanor back in London, the trio were soon able to retrieve it, but an entire squadron of Italian thugs then following them back to England. Fearing that these men would go after his wife, James asked another wedding guest who had his own formidable group of bodyguards, the Crown Prince of Luxembourg, to help protect her. During the next month while James and his colleagues evaded and stopped the Italians that Prince courted and stole his wife from him."

"Well, that wasn't very nice, was it? Those Princes just think they can do whatever they please... Poor James, that is pretty tragic. Though I daresay it worked out in the end." She grinned at her Nana. Things in her life had started off poorly, just like Ruby and their family curse, but she had managed to take advantage of life and was living pretty darned well. Ruby only hoped she could be as happy and successful as Nana one day.

Ruby placed a hand on George’s face and kept it there while she kissed him again. Then she snuggled her head onto his shoulder, scorching down into the uncomfortable seat. "This is horribly uncomfortable compared to our last train. It feels like it's taking forever and I'm just so excited to get there." Mina smiles and says, "That custom Pullman spoiled you, it's probably the fanciest train in the country. It only makes runs between New York and Savannah, with stops in between in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, Richmond and Raleigh. Beyond that this type of train is more the norm. But we're almost there, only another twenty miles or so, should be less than a half-hour until our arrival. Ruby says, "It definitely did spoil me, it was beautiful. We were lucky it happened to be going our way. And only twenty minutes, thank Aphrodite!" Her legs were again starting to twitch, she was very ready to begin their adventure.

George patted Ruby on the knee. "I am sure the mosquitoes will have you wishing to be back on the train." he laughed. "Very funny," she said and leaned over to kiss him again to hush him. "You don't even want to know the places I've lived, mosquitoes are nothing! And I have dealt with much bigger blood suckers as you know."

Mina asks, “So Ruby, did you have fun this last month? I haven't seen that much of you other than at your mother's wedding." "Well, this month has been very busy Nana. We've been planning the wedding. We had a lot of discussing to do about when it should happen but I think we've chosen a date and church and all that. I thought we should do it quickly but George is right, we have a lot of people to appease and it should be a big event. We picked out a lot of the other things that go with planning a wedding of this size. You know, George knows a lot of people." She smiled. "Kate helped me choose a beautiful gown in New York City and it's being made as we speak. And caterers that will come up to Rochester for whatever various parties that will happen. I am certain George will find some other wedding details to bore me with." She squeezed his hand in hers. "Though I must say I'm warming to this big wedding thing."

"Then there has been..." Ruby leaned forward towards her grandmother and Nanuet, "Well, George... we've... figured out some things about George. Seems he has been blessed by the gods as we have, he just needed to listen to his heart and figure it out. He's been working tirelessly on that and I have been helping as I can. His goddess, Athena of course, has always been watching over him." She glanced sideways at the man beside her, Ruby considered how much to tell but determined it was his story, if he wanted to share it. She grinned. "So we have been practicing."

"Then George has had his work - getting ready for him to be away and also opening the Tucson office - but he's still taken the time to bring me in and teach me some of what he does. It's actually very interesting and my man is so smart to invent all these wonderful technologies that are changing the world." She had a proud grin on her face as she spoke of his accomplishments, anyone could tell how much she adored him.

"And I have been working on getting to know his staff better at home. You met them that day before... you know... THAT day. Al, Rosie and William are all very nice people and I think they like me. Though I still can't get them to eat dinner at the table with me." She pouted a little at that, she didn't like that they had to change their eating arrangement because of her, she never considered herself above them but they kept insisting that it wasn't proper now that she was there. "I have decorated a little in the house to keep me busy but I'm not sure George loves my exotic styles and tastes. May be a little too colorful for him," Ruby laughed. "I assume George doesn't complain because he doesn't want me to be bored."

"And of course it's the summer so we did spend some time outside, picnics and hikes and the gardens and swimming and things like that. We saw some theater too. And that little amusement park that has some rides, oh I love that place so much and George takes me there a lot. I do adore the summer but I forgot how much more humid it is here than out West!"

Ruby curled her long red hair around a finger as she spoke, stopping occasionally to think on more details. "I think that is everything." She paused and looked out the window for a moment, watching the land speed by. "Not exactly the life I thought I would be living at the beginning of this year I would say."
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Silver Moon

Chapter Five, “There is a house in New Orleans… ”, September 1st, 1882, 11:30 A.M.

On the second train, Roy looks at his companion and asks, “You ok, Doc? You look a little flushed." During Roy's tale, Thomas did his best to quell his nervousness, apparently to no avail. "Wha? Umm, yes Huggins, I'm quite alright, quite", Thomas stammered out. "I... um... think that the long day of travel has finally caught up to me, and I'm just a bit out of sorts with slight fatigue and hunger. I'm sure I'll be fine after I get something to eat." Regaining his composure a bit, he said, "After all, as you might imagine, I've got quite an appetite to satisfy!" Thomas managed a smile, which he was sure was no more convincing than his previous attempt at looking menacing.

"As to how... ummm... Miss Marsters... ummm... and I ... uh... know each other, well that would have been our ... being together... NO, I mean WORKING together, working... at the ... uhhhh... Pitt Rivers estate back in England." Thomas gulped, as he felt the sweat break out on his large forehead, in which he was sure must have been huge rivulets. He had led slave rebellions, fought Confederate soldiers, stopped Turkish assassins, entered the lairs of underground denizens best left undiscovered and undisturbed, and from the deck of a sinking ship, even stared into the abyssal maw of the Maelstrom itself ... but all of that was nothing, nothing -- there was nothing he feared more than the intimacy of small-talk with Miss Marsters. At the dinner table, or on the parlor floor, even dancing, Thomas could hold his own quite well -- there was safety and comfort in the large crowd. But here, with her so close, and his shyness so obvious? Terrifying!

Thomas continued on: "The estate is an archaeological dig of some import for scholars of the confluence of early Roman and Saxon society." Sensing ground where his footing was surer, Thomas stammered less, as the scholar within took control over the shy adolescent. "Pitt Rivers is an astounding man -- a genius in his field, and meticulous to boot." On an impulse, warming up to the chance to talk about their experiences at the dig, Thomas reached for an orange and fumbled with it a bit as he talked, his large fingers struggling with the tiny fruit. "I believe that Miss Marsters would agree with me that we learned much under the tutelage of Pitt Rivers, and that he's single-handedly advancing the ... OH, DEAR!"

As Thomas spoke, one of his fingers gouged too deeply into the orange's meat, spraying juice and pulp straight into his eyes, bouncing a seed off his forehead. "I... uh... oh." Roy bit his tongue and tried not to laugh at his obviously flustered friend. "I certainly learned more that's of practical use there than I did at University," Abigail agreed as she handed Dr. Crane a handkerchief pulled from her pocket. "That juice must sting. I can never manage to be neat when I peel an orange either. You'd think I was still two years old." Thomas took the handkerchief from Abigail, muttering a quiet "thank you" as he avoided looking directly at her. As he wiped the orange pulp and juice from his face, he listened to Roy and Abigail chat.

As she relaxed Abigail's accent became more pronounced, making it easy to guess that she was New Orleans born and bred. "Pitt-Rivers insists that all artifacts are important, and that everyday items can teach more than treasure. And I have to say I agree. He's also opened up some lovely public gardens that I spent a lot of my free time in.
And I of course enjoyed being in my father's native land. I took the chance to meet some aunts and uncles while I was there."

Roy quickly turned to Abigail. "I noticed you were reading a book before you joined us. May I ask what it was?" She replies, "Oh, just a novel. After university I find I don't want to do so much hard reading as I used to. This particular one is Vanity Fair, about a particularly amoral if clever young woman and her rise and fall. Rather juicy, actually," she laughed. "Not quite a penny dreadful, but my mother would still be horrified."

"I promise not to tell her," Roy said with a wink and a grin. "I couldn't help but notice your accent. New Orleans, correct? Did you know LeSoleil Levant?" Thomas was about to remark that he, too, had recently read Thackeray's novel, but was sidetracked when Huggins queried her about LeSoleil Levant. Strange, he thought to himself, that name sounded somewhat familiar, and yet he couldn't place it

"Only by reputation," she grinned back. "And yes, N'awlins is home. Such a gorgeous place, although the summers can be unbearable. LeSoleil Levant... didn't offer services an eighteen-year old needed. It's gone now. I was twenty when it folded, I believe. To the chagrin of more than one gentleman I might add. But there is no shortage of those kinds of services in New Orleans. Such music and dancing! I haven't traveled very widely yet, but I cannot imagine a place to rival my home for music and dancing."

"I am in definite agreement with you there, girlie. There is no better place in this country of ours than the Big Easy for singing and dancing. I was there the night they closed Madame Levant's doors, you know. Being something of a card player, I found myself partaking of her business somewhat frequently. Good times, they were. But I say adieu to the past and bon jour to the future. All I need is my suitcase and a trunk to make it in this world." Roy drinks his latest refill of whiskey and slams the glass on to the tray. "What say you, Doc? How come you never took up my offers to show you around New Orleans?"

Thomas finished wiping his face, and folded the handkerchief before starting to hand it back to Abigail. He stopped, and instead put it into his coat pocket.

"I'll have this laundered and returned to you, Miss Marsters. Thank you again." Suddenly, the realization dawned upon him suddenly, after he thought about the conversation that he just heard, that the woman Roy had been talking about was none other than the infamous Madam of the House of the Rising Sun -- not only famous as a den of iniquitous behavior but also as a key nexus of the espionage network that the Union had created in its efforts against the Confederacy.

Glaring at Roy for his scandalizing choice of conversation, combined with his memory of what New Orleans meant to Ogres, Thomas replied "While I am sure that New Orleans was undoubtedly a veritable wonderland for your devotion to the pursuit of secular pleasures, I can assure that it was a much different experience for me, and will likely continue to be so. Those of my -- ilk, shall we say -- are generally not accorded with a great deal of respect or kindness... to say the least. The city's attitudes towards Ogrekind haven't changed much since the end of the War -- and at any turn of every street corner, it felt to me that you could almost hear the echoes of the gavel sounding the end of yet another slave auction, sending another innocent soul into bondage."

Thomas found himself on the verge of blood-boiling anger yet again. This time, he was solely focusing on his dear friend at its source ..., which, clearly, was not at all Huggins's fault. Closing his eyes, and taking yet another in a series of deep breaths to calm himself, he sought again to regain his composure. "I... I'm sorry, my friend, for my tempestuous digression. I am sure you do not need a lecture from me about either iniquitous behavior or man's inhumanity to man. As I said, it's been a long day, and I am perhaps overtired from the journey and the strain of suffering from an excess of ... Southern courtesy." (those last two words dripping sarcasm, a rare display from Thomas).

"If you will pardon me," Thomas said as he stood up, "I think I need to find the necessary room and attend to my dishabille from my battle with the orange. If you and" (gazing into her face directly for the first time as he nodded to her) "Miss Marsters will excuse me?". He then left to find the train car's water closet. Roy looked a bit confused as Doc walked off.

Turning back to his new companion Roy says, "Well, I understand where he's coming from, I mean the racism in New Orleans can be palpable in certain locations, but I always wished he had come down and stayed with the folks I stayed with. As long as your money was green, they didn't care what you were." Roy shook his head sadly. "Anyway," he said as he turned to look at Abigail. "How do you know Mr. Parker?"

Abigail's eyes followed Dr. Crane as he walked down the aisle. She suddenly realized she was still wearing her spectacles and pulled them off. "New Orleans bears its share of the shame of the south, but there are so many places that have always rejected it. I don't know Mr. Parker. I'm invited on Dr. Crane's recommendation." He replies, "Interesting. And what specialties do you bring to this ragtag bunch?"

She answers, "I'm not entirely sure. I have no idea what we're going to be doing. As far as I know all I have to offer is my education and a thirst for adventure." Abigail looked at Roy for a moment, wondering how much it was safe to say. "We girls from New Orleans also have some other talents on occasion."

While Abigail and Roy are engaged in conversation and Thomas attempts to compose himself again, they are now leaving the Baldwin, Florida train depot for the final nineteen-miles of the trip to Jacksonville. For the next dozen or so miles the outside scenery changes from marsh and forest to vast cotton fields as far as the eye can see, many with ogres and half-ogres out picking the cotton.

Back upon the first train, George Eastman put away his notebook and his pen. Stood and stretched. The seats were a bit uncomfortable. Looking at them he made a mental note to have someone look into the curve of the spine and how a seat back might support it better. "I agree, this has been a long journey, though I think the easiest part perhaps. Still a bit of fresh air would do the constitution good. I think I shall step out onto the balcony. Would you care to join me Constance?" says George offering his arm.

"Certainly," she nodded, and stood also, wondering if she had said something that upset him. She hooked her arm around his and with an "Excuse us," to Nana and Nanuet she followed him where he led her. Nanuet goes to looking out the window and observing the landscape. They pass alongside various farms and plantations where cotton and sugarcane are being grown. The fields are being worked by ogres and half-ogres.

George and Ruby step through the rear door of the passenger compartment onto a platform the width of the train and only three feet in length. A metal fence surrounds it, with a gate in the middle. The gate is currently shut and secured with a simple latching mechanism, and on the other side are steps down to the ground and then up to the next train car. With the gate shut it allows the passengers a degree of safety to stand and take in the scenery. The surroundings are mostly farms and fields, but they now also start to pass through a small residential area with small clapboard houses that appear to be occupied by a mixed group of both ogres and working class humans.

George walked with Ruby to the edge of the platform, watching the scenery moving past quickly He breathed in some fresh air. The air inside had been getting a bit stale with out the windows open. George turned to his fiancé took her in his arms and kissed hr passionately. He broke after a few moments and held her hands in his. "I just wanted a moment alone with you was all Constance." he said as he put his arm around her waist and watches the scenery some more as Ruby laid her head on his shoulder.

She grinned up at him, "Of course you did darling," before standing on her toes and kissing him again. Then she settled into his shoulder to watch the landscape with him. "I fear we won't have much time alone on this trip, we will be surrounded by so many people. We'll have to steal time, I think."

"And steal it then we shall," replies George kissing her again. "I feel like we have just begun our lives together, engaged as we are, though not yet married and yet, with you, with these friends, and the guild, that events are drawing us apart. I feel like we should be picnicking back in New York right now, not sitting on some cramped train on the way to the swamps of Florida. But I will admit to being excited, both for the travel and adventure and to be with you. I know you would not truly be happy back in the parlor in New York," says George as he bends to kiss Ruby again.

Ruby enjoyed that kiss for a while and the fresh air that was swirling around them as they did. "George, I would be happy with you in that parlor, as long as we were together. But in a way you are right, I wouldn't be happy sitting there forever, I would get bored, even with you my love. You have your work and I was just never meant to sit home all day and do nothing but primp. Still, I would do it for you and try my best."

She pushed the deep red hair off her face. "I disagree about these events drawing us apart. I think quite the opposite, we will have a little adventure and it will be fun and exciting and this traveling and experiencing new things will bring us together." She put her hands on George's chest and pressed herself into his arms, staring into his eyes. "We have just begun our life together darling and it shall be a long and happy one for us."

"I am happy to hear you say that, but remember that I have had you absent from my life for many years, and am in no great hurry to share you or my time with you with anyone. Nor am I inclined to risk losing you by allowing you to traipse about getting injured, sick or bitten," says George with a smile. "I just want to have my time with you Constance, I have searched for you a long time, I have found you and don't intend to let you go, now or ever. My love is burning within me, only you may quench it my love, and so I am loath to lead you into danger, and yet I cannot keep you safe at home. What ever shall I do with you my darling Constance?"

Ruby grinned at George, her smile filled with happiness. "You shall love me George, that's all I really need from you." Her hands went to his face and held it gently facing her. She kissed him softly on the lips as she gazed into his eyes. "You love me better than anyone ever has, I understand you want to protect me. And I love you even more for it. So you will keep me safe so I can quench that fire in you. And at the same time I get to be a little selfish and fulfill my own needs. But you will love me, and follow me and keep me happy for the rest of our lives, as I shall do for you." She kissed him again, this time longer and a little more passionately.

When she pulled back she looked off again at the scenery. "But speaking of time... there is something I have been wanting to talk to you about. Since you brought it up..." She turned to face him again. "Have you wondered why my grandmother looks more like my mother and my mother looks so young herself?"

George smiled back at Ruby. "Well, I did wonder at first my dearest. But I did some research, you know how I love that. And though I do not know exactly how it is done, I suspect that you and your grandmother share the same "gift" And that through that gift, women maintain their beauty longer. I have found several references to priestesses of Aphrodite performing the same feat," replies George.

“I should have known you would do your research,” Ruby laughed, the thought having never crossed her mind. “While we obviously share the same bloodline, what keeps my grandmother young, I do not share. Yet. It’s actually…,” she stood on her toes to whisper in his ear, “…Magic.” She returned to her normal height so she could look him in the face. “I know you might be hesitant to think about it but… well… according to her it can double your life. Wouldn’t that be so wonderful, to have all that extra time together? And to stay young and beautiful that much longer? She says you can’t use it until you stop growing at 21 but George, I would love to do it. You know how I hate to think of getting old or ugly.”

"It would be nice, the wisdom and knowledge of age, the health and energy of youth. Imagine an extra 20 or 30 years of work in the lab." says George. Looking down he adds "And of course with you. But I do not fear getting old or ugly my love. And you will never ever be old or ugly to me. What I fear is being without you."

Ruby gazed into his eyes returning the love she saw there before kissing him. "You will never have to be without me George. There is no reason to fear it." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "I mean it." She smiled and took his hand. "We should talk to Nana about it and see when and what we have to do. She said I had to wait but you could do it soon if you wanted. This is so exciting! Yes, imagine all that energy of youth..." She gave him a little eyebrow waggle and giggled at her insinuation.

George smiled and gave Ruby a pinch on the bottom before gathering her in his arms again. "Who says I lost it?" he says with a wicked grin of his own before kissing her passionately. Finally breaking he looked down at her. "Yes ask her what I or we need to do. Perhaps that could be her wedding present to us." George suggested.

"You haven't lost a thing," Ruby giggled as George pulled her to him. "That is a FABULOUS idea George Eastman! I bet Nana and James would love to do that for us for our wedding." She was quiet then for a moment, they would soon need to go back inside and begin gathering their belongings. "Sometimes I wish we had gotten married already George. I know why we should wait I just sometimes..." she shrugged. "I don't know. Wish I was Mrs. Eastman." She forced a smile, "But it will be good to wait, I know."

George smiled "The day you have patience Constance shall be the day the sun shall rise in the west. And you don't lie well either." he said kissing her. Then whispering in her ear "You never know what passions the tropics will inflame."

“You love me even for all my shortcomings George Eastman, not that there are many,” she teased. She kept her comment about lying to herself. She had been making an effort to be truthful with George for some time now and she felt it was paying off; still, there was a lot about her he didn’t know. “The tropics… is Florida considered the topics?” She paused momentarily to ponder that, pushing some long red hair off her face. “Well, whether it is or isn’t, I’ll certainly always be looking for ways to inflame your passion,” she said shamelessly flirting. She squeezed his hands in hers and giggled. “I don’t think you’ll complain too much. As I don’t think you’ll complain when I’m Mrs. George Eastman.” She furrowed her brows together in her common “I’m thinking” face. “Ruby Eastman? Mrs. Ruby Eastman? What do you think?”

"Mrs. Constance Eastman my love. You can be Ruby West, but you have always been and will always be my Constance, and you need to be proud to be my Constance." George lifts up Ruby's chin and looks into her eyes. "You don't need to be Ruby West anymore Constance. You don't need to run from anything any more. You will be, you are now, Mrs. Constance Eastman. You need to be proud of that, to be yourself, your real self. You can always be that with me Constance, no matter what." he says as he kisses her gently.

After their kiss Ruby stared into his eyes for a long moment. "I am proud to be your Constance, I am." She grinned, "I just hate the name. But at the very least I will be your Mrs. Eastman." She laughed a little to herself then grew quiet. "It's almost time to go back inside," she said quietly. She paused, staring at his chest instead of his face. "Thank you, for everything. The only place I will be running from now on is to you."

George gathered Ruby into his arms and hugged her tightly for a long time. And it was only as the brakes on the train began to squeal that he broke and gave her one more kiss. "I am glad you no longer need to run away from things future Mrs. Eastman." he said with a smile. "Now come we must get our bags." he said as he open the door for her. “To start our first adventure, together!” Ruby chirped.

They had spent some time outside and as the landscape and time went by they realized they were very close to the train depot according to Nana's 30-minute prediction. "We should go back in and get our things ready George, I'm ready to get off this train!" They headed back inside to Nana and Nanuet who while much calmer than Ruby also looked ready to leave the cramped, uncomfortable train behind. "Everyone ready? Fresh air and room to stretch the legs at the least. Nana, will James be here to pick us up?" "Oh yes, you can count on that," she says, the anxiety showing in her tone of voice.
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Silver Moon

Chapter Six, “Reaching Jacksonville,” September 1st, 1882, 11:45 A.M.

The Saint Johns river can now be seen to the east and between the river and train tracks are a number of working sawmills with stacks of finished lumber. These are followed by several large warehouses from which the train occupants can see barrels of sugar, bales of cotton and crates of fresh produce that are being prepared for transport by both railcar and ocean barge. The workers at these places again reflect an even mix of humans and those of ogrish blood.

They cross on a metal railroad bridge over a tributary river flowing into the Saint Johns and then travel two blocks west of downtown. The growing community is a welcoming sight, with wide streets lined by mammoth-sized oak trees. Multi-colored flowers are planted alongside the cobblestone sidewalks with park benches and wrought-iron streetlights placed every hundred-or-so feet. Many stone-constructed mercantile buildings as well as dozens of wooden hotels can be seen lining both sides of the streets throughout this business district.

The train begins to pull into the station along one of over two dozen tracks at the busy rail yard. The elaborate Union Station is situated just beyond the tracks. Near the front of the station are several horse-drawn trolleys coming to and fro. They can also get a glimpse that two blocks eastward over near the banks of the St. Johns river is a public marketplace with permanent stores as well as several dozen pushcarts and temporary tables with vendors hawking their wares. There appear to currently be hundreds of customers at the market.

Ruby gathered her bag excitedly. "Hey, look at that little market over there! I wonder what they have... what are Florida specialties anyway? I'd like to go check it out if we have time, oh George, will you take me over there?" she grinned at him. "Nanuet, you need to get Maska off the back of the train, right?" She stepped over near her grandmother and spoke in a soft voice. "Is something wrong Nana? you sounded a little nervous earlier when I mentioned meeting James."

Mina replies to Ruby, "I've missed him. This is the longest we have been apart since we were wed." As they exit the train along Track Three, Wilamina spots her husband anxiously waiting on the railroad platform forty feet away. Standing just under six-feet in height, he is attired in a comfortable white cotton shirt, bow tie, slightly worn tan cotton-and-wool-blend suitcoat and matching trousers, topped off with a tan wide-brimmed felt hat. He has blue-gray eyes and dark brown hair that is just starting to turn white along the temples and sideburns.

Ruby notes that he is now clean-shaven, his having worn a neatly cropped short beard and mustache during her visitations in June. He has the appearance of a robust, muscular man in his mid-fifties although Ruby is aware that he is actually much older than that. Mina breaks away from the others as she and her husband both rush towards each other at a pace that most of those in high society would deem to be improper for the time. Equally improper is the public display of affection that immediately follows, as he sweeps her up into his arms and spins her around, followed by a long and passionate kiss.

"Awww," Ruby squeezed George's hand, "Look at how sweet! He is so good for her." She grinned at the two and gave them private time to reconnect while she looked around the station.

Ruby fanned herself a little. "Oh my gods, it's HOT. I didn't think it would be so hot! I mean, it's still pleasantly warm up in New York but it's still like the middle of summer here." She wiggled out of her travel jacket and dropped it onto her bag at her feet. Her outfit, a thin white blouse with a square neck and long peach skirt, the whole proper getup, was still warm but at least without the jacket her arms and chest were more bare. "I hope it cools off."

When Nana and James finally parted Ruby hurried over. "Hi James! It's no nice to see you again!" She gave him a big hug. "How are you? Where is everyone else? Are we the first ones here?" She waved the boys over, "Come say hi George and Nanuet!" James Parker shakes hands with George and Nanuet and tells them both how glad he is to finally meet them in person. Turning back to Ruby he states, “Yes, your group is the first to arrive. I only arrived here myself a few minutes ago. Let’s go locate a porter and then quickly gather up your luggage.”

Pointing over towards the west side of the train depot he states, “A train will be coming in over on Track Fourteen in another ten-to-fifteen minutes. It has some other members of our group on it, so after we gather the luggage we can head that direction and wait for it to arrive before loading everything up onto the coach.”

Ruby let the men figure out the bag situation. "How many people are we expecting James? And after we get them, where are we going? I'm so excited but I don't know too many details!" James replies, "I'm picking ten of you up here this afternoon, three will be on the next train and three on the one after it. We should wait until we're in private to discuss the specific details of what I have in mind for this new team."

Ruby exclaims, "Ten! How exciting! Lots of new people to meet. I hope they're all nice." She looked back over to the market. "Do I have time to go over there and look around James? While we wait? I'd like to stretch my legs. Besides, it will give you two a few more minutes alone." He replies, "We'll have time between the arrival of the second and third trains."

"Well, by then I'll have lots of new friends to talk to!" she chirps. "So, is it always this hot down here?" James replies, "Today it is unseasonably warm, northern Florida usually isn't that bad. Now down towards the southern part of this state, that gets really hot. But Ruby, didn't you used to live in the Arizona Territory? It gets pretty hot there too."

Ruby laughed. "Yes, I did live in Arizona... it was hot but it wasn't humid like this there! Perhaps it's just me and all the traveling we did, we had cramped quarters today. But you should ask Nana to tell you about the train we traveled in most of the way down here!! It was so beautiful!"

She gazed around at the crowd to check out what the locals were wearing. "I figured I might have to do some shopping once I found out what we would actually be doing." He says, "There will be time for that in the next few days. On Monday night we'll be coming back to the city for a ball, we could arrive a few hours early for that and you could do some shopping with Mina." She paused momentarily, recalling what he'd just said. "Did you say a ball? Like, a real ball, with music and dancing?"

James laughs and says, "Yes, a real ball. Jacksonville has a social club for the elite and they have been trying to get myself as well as my colleagues Doctor Cernoviz and Mister Star to join since our arrival in June. I told them we were too busy, but would find the time after my wife joins us in the fall. Well, now it's fall, and she's now here, so they're holding me to what I said. I secured invitations for you and George as well as many of our new colleagues also."

Nanuet first went to retrieve Maska and then did as much as he could to be helpful with the bags. She kept an eye on Nanuet as they spoke, making sure he didn't need her to cast another invisibility spell on Maska. The quartet (and the invisible wolf) make their way over to Track Fourteen along with a half-ogre porter who has loaded their luggage onto a rolling cart. They see the smoke from the train's engine billowing in the distance as the train begins to pull into the station.

Ruby stood anxiously on the platform, with a large smile, twisting her long red hair on her finger for the second time that day. She was excited to see who her new companions would be, though she didn't have any idea what they would look like she kept a sharp eye out as people were slowly disembarking off the train.

She was tall for a woman of this time, almost six-feet tall with her boots on, though her grandmother who was standing on one side of her was just the same height and build as she was. Her height made it easier to see over the crowds and her hazel eyes gazed over the people who were coming off the train with curious interest. Her striking beauty and curvy figure earned many glances from men passing by but Ruby had long ago learned to ignore those glances - or use them to her advantage when she felt like it. No, all the attention of the young girl was currently drawn to that train.

As the train pulled into the station, Thomas emerged from the bathroom, re-composed and mostly free of the orange debacle. Roy and Abigail had already gathered their things, and waved to him to follow as they disembarked. Thomas returned to the seat, grabbing up his carpetbag in one swoop with his left hand, as he flipped up his bowler hat into the air with his right hand, catching it perfectly on his head as he took his walking stick and exited the car.

Thomas stopped for a moment to take in the hustle and bustle of Union Station. He hesitated a moment before disembarking, momentarily self-conscious at his appearance. He dressed as he was in the finery of a landed British gentleman: a dark-gray worsted double-breasted suit, perfectly tailored and fitted to his large barrel-chested frame, with weathered black riding boots. He wore a hat to shade his head from the sun, being almost completely devoid of head and facial hair, a trait not uncommon amongst many of ogrish descent. His carpetbag dangled hung on one end of his elaborately carved and engraved mahogany walking stick, which he held at an angle over his back, while with the other hand he re-adjusted the large white cravat around his neck.

His hesitation was due, in no small part, to the tensions he knew his presence might cause his traveling companions. Not that he was worried in the slightest about the companions themselves -- Thomas knew Parker to be an enlightened man of egalitarian beliefs who not brook ignorance or prejudice from those he called friends. His concern was for the attitudes and actions of those who called the Deep South home, who would likely take offense at seeing an ogre (or half-ogre, in his case) styling himself in gentleman's finery, and would little concern at expressing it. The last thing he wanted to have happen was for his companions to suffer any indignity or disgrace because of him.

And yet, Thomas knew, he could not control the attitudes of others, although he might try to change them by setting a genteel and honorable example. He resolved to himself to remember above all what the greater purpose is in all of his endeavors, and to return the loyal friendship and camaraderie that his companions gifted to him.

Thomas and Roy see James and Wilamina Parker standing on the train platform accompanied by a young male elf and a young human couple. The young woman looks like a younger version of Mina so is clearly the granddaughter she spoke of. Roy leapt up as soon as the train came to a full stop. "Care to join me, Abigail?" he asked as he offered his arm to her. Together, they found Doc and made their way off the train.

Once on the platform, Roy look around for Mr. Parker and excitedly pointed him out to the rest of the group. He made his way to Mr. Parker and extended his hand. "Hello, Mr. Parker. Damn nice to see you again. Mrs. Parker, always a pleasure." He grinned slyly and took Wilamina's hand to kiss the back of it. "And who are these fine looking folks with you, Mr. Parker?"

Roy extended his hand to the male elf, always glad to meet a fellow non-human, and shook it strongly. Nanuet was surprised by the strength of the grip from the halfling. He shook his hand warmly and said "Greetings, pleased to meet you. Roy isn't it? I'm Nanuet of the Yavapi tribe."

He did the same to the human male and, just as he had done with Mina, kissed the human woman's hand as well. "Enchantée." If the strangers were anything like normal people, they were probably wondering how they mistook this person for a child. Most people assumed, from a distance, that this 3'7" person, with his long brown hair and dashing good looks (at least he thought so), was a handsome little boy. But once you got close, they realized he was nothing but; especially once he opened his mouth.

Ruby smiled as the small man kissed her hand and she gave him a courtesy. "You must be Roy, Nana spoke about you on the train. I'm Ruby, er, Constance, this is my Nana," she tilted her head towards Mina. "But you can call me Ruby. It's a pleasure to meet you. How was your trip?" It was a little difficult, as it was with the halfling Chumbley back home, to not want to kneel down to speak to the "little person" and Nana had put it, especially since Ruby was so tall.

Thomas stepped down stairs from the car, walking up behind Roy, towering over the gnome by almost twice his height. He smiled as he watched Roy make his all-too-usual introduction (often barely disguised as an attempt at seduction) to a woman, this time a stunningly beautiful redhead, who seemed slightly taller than most human women Thomas was accustomed to. He set down his staff and carpetbag, doffed his bowler hat and held it close to his breast with one hand, bowing as he extended his other to take hers. "I am Doctor Thomas Imamu Sapathwa-Crane," boomed Thomas in his voice deeper than any bassoon, "at your service, madam."

Ruby offered her hand, her long, soft, graceful fingers getting lost inside his large warm hand. He bowed and she in return again curtsied, she was trying her best to use good manners on this trip to not embarrass her grandmother, James OR George. Instead of pulling her hand away she kept it in his, apparently distracted by something. As he stood up to his full height in front of her, only a foot away, her chin rose as she watched his face. She said in awe, "Ruby West. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Nanuet nodded to the others, waiting for them to come to him rather than approach them, worried about how they might perceive him being of full elvish decent. He occasionally glanced to the area where he had left Maska, anyone watching him might wonder why he was glancing at what would seem to be an empty near the train platform.

Abigail stood back with Dr. Crane as Roy made his grandiose greetings. "Leave no lady uncomplimented seems to be his motto, Doctor. I rather like him," she smiled. "I hope I won't disappoint your colleagues." As Dr. Crane greeted the lovely young woman, Abigail checked herself over to make sure everything was in place. The lovely, dark blue traveling down trimmed with black embroidery was straight and as wrinkle-free as could be expected and the crisp white blouse underneath showed just its collar above her jacket. It was perfectly tailored to her slim, graceful figure, flaring out over her hips and fitting snugly under her pleasantly rounded bosom.

She patted her hair, just dark enough to be called brunette instead of blonde and shining like honey in the sunlight. The curls arranged around her face framed deep blue eyes that couldn't hide the glint of fun and humor. She offered her hand to her host and hostess, saying, "I'm Abigail Marsters. I hope I can live up to whatever Dr. Crane has told you." Out of the corner of her eye Ruby watched and sized up the young woman speaking to her grandmother. She squeed inside that there would be another girl on this trip with her and relished the chance to speak to her herself.

James Parker states, "Thomas has spoken very highly of you and anyone who has worked a dig with General Pitt Rivers and passed his precise standards is exactly who we need for this project." As an afterthought he adds, "Although don't expect the same degree of order and precision from this team, we'll be a lot less formal and hopefully a little bit more fun."

She replies, "I'm looking forward to finding out more about this mystery project," she answered with a smile. "But I trust Dr. Crane's judgement. If he thinks it will be a good fit for all of us, then it will. And I could use a bit more fun in my life." Abigail moved down the line, greeting the silent but handsome elvan man hanging back slightly. "Abigail Marsters," she said and offered her hand. "I hope your journey wasn't too uncomfotable. May I have the pleasure of knowing your name?"

Nanuet awkwardly took Abigail's hand not knowing if he should shake it or kiss it as he has seen other human males do. He decided to shake it and did so clumsily. His face blushing he smiled and said. "A pleasure to meet you Miss Abigail, I am Nanuet of the Yavapi tribe. The trip was long and I am glad to finally be here, I hope your trip was pleasant enough."

Gathering up the luggage of the trio from this train, they head to the station's parking area. They approach a Concord Coach that looks to be brand new, the paint and stain on the woodwork showing no marks or scuffs and with the sun shining off the exterior metal with a sparkling gleam. Unlike other coaches that Ruby and Nanuet have ridden in, this one has a much larger passenger compartment. Instead of a single center door of each side this coach has a pair of double doors on the right passenger side. Inside there is a center bench in a “T” shape designed to seat five in addition to the four-passenger benches at the front and rear of the interior coach.

Checking his pocket watch James says, “We have three more colleagues arriving today, it will be another hour until their train gets here. Why don’t we pay the porter to stay and watch the carriage and we can then walk over to the outdoor market and get us all something to eat. We should also pick up some extra food for the remaining three to eat on the ride back to the house.”

Walking between one and two blocks away, in the direction of the river, James says, “This is the Ocean Street public market, the larger of the two marketplaces here in Jacksonville. The other market is a bit fancier and is further uptown at the intersection of Hogan and Church Streets, nearer to the banks and the fancier hotels.

I prefer this market to the other at that one has racial restrictions, only allowing non-humans to enter if they are servants and in the company of their human employers. It is also easier to get to this market by boat than the other, with several public docks near by. The selection at this market is actually better, as are the prices. While the quality of the food and merchandise here can vary widely, if you have a keen eye you should be able to find things sufficient to your liking.”
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Silver Moon

Chapter Seven, “Jacksonville Market,” September 1st, 1882, 12:30 P.M.

There are around thirty vendors of uncooked foods and an equal number of vendors offering pre-cooked foods. Among the cooked foods are a number of people serving rice and fish dishes. There are also a lot of vendors serving fresh poultry, primarily chicken, cooked in a variety of different styles. Several ogre vendors are selling fried southern-style catfish accompanied by fried yams. One vendor has cooked pork products. There are also a half-dozen human vendors of Spanish origin selling traditional Spanish foods. Most bakers present are selling wheat bread and rolls.

"Oh, there is always SOMETHING to buy," Ruby commented as they walked to the market, one eye on the shopping the other on her new companions. "Lunch does sound good, I am already starving! I wonder what Florida delicacies are..." As they walked she wandered over to the blue eyed girl. "I'm sorry we didn't have a chance to say hello earlier, my name is Ruby. And your name is Abigail? Will you be joining us the entire trip?"

Abigail replies, "I don't even know what the trip is yet! But I signed on for the entire project, whatever it may be. From what Roy and Dr. Crane have said traveling with this group is a rare opportunity, and not the kind of thing they prepared us for at University. From your looks, I'd guess you're family to Mrs. Parker?"

Ruby gave the girl a grin. "Yes, she my grandmother. I know, shocking, right? The similarities?" she laughed. "And what's funny is neither of us looks much like my mother." They continued to walk on towards the market. "I don't know what the trip is yet either, it's a surprise! But I love surprises, so I'm excited to find out what it is. University you say, you went to school?" Ruby wondered if she would be a boring smarty pants.

"Mmhmm." Abigail's voice turned to a mother-like tone and she added, "It's a very great privilege to go to University, Abigail." In her own voice she went on. "My mother was very proud. And I wouldn't trade that experience for anything, but it was about so much more than just classes. My mother would be horrified to hear about some of the things we girls got up to there. I went to Wells College, a university just for women, and let me tell you getting that many girls in one place you better expect some trouble." She laughed and shook her head. "Most of it was pretty innocent. But we had enough supervision to sneak around to get away from it now and then too."

"Well, that sounds pretty fun. At least, not how I pictured like, boarding school. You'll have to tell me some of those stories while we on our trip, I bet they're entertaining. Myself, I hated school and couldn't wait to be done with it. My parents never even mentioned college, I just they just figured I would be married off so I didn't need it." She shrugged. "Though sometimes I wished I paid a little more attention that I did." A sad look crossed her face but only for a moment, the grin returned and she continued quickly, "Besides, it'll be more fun to learn this way, practical application and all that. Who knows what varied things we'll learn this trip!"

They walked a bit quietly, both sizing the other up. "So, do you have a boy you're leaving behind for this trip?" "You're not" said George to Ruby teasingly. "No, I'm definitely not," she said the wide smile hurting her cheeks as she took his hand. "This is George, George, this is Abigail. Abby was just telling me about her college days. You and I both missed out on those but I was saying this is the better way to learn anyway."

"A pleasure to make your aquaintance Abigail." says George shaking Abby's hand. "Well Ruby there is nothing learned in college that you can't learn alter in life if you apply yourself. Though I am jealous of your experience attending College Abigail, do not waste your opportunity." says George. "How are you, George?" Abigail shook his hand. "College is better for some people, life is better for others. I think I'd like to try them both. I didn't leave any particular boy behind. I spent plenty of time with plenty of them, but I haven't been looking to get settled with one. I might someday if a good one comes along. And if he doesn't I have plenty to keep me entertained for more than one human lifetime. They do add a bit of excitement to life though, don't they?"

Ruby replies, "Yes, they certainly do add some excitement to life. They definitely keep it more interesting I would say. But in good ways." Nanuet followed behind the group observing their gait, looking for anything unusual in the way they walked... a years old habit coming from his tracking abilities. He half-listened to the conversation between Ruby, George and Abigail and was glad to hear they were getting along so well.

Ruby drags George and Nanuet over to the ogre vendors. "Hey, we're in the South, we should try some southern like foods, right?" Ruby gets two orders of the catfish and yams. Next she proceeds to get some chicken, fish and some pork and rolls, enough for them and extra for the people who are still haven't arrived yet. "Are we finding a spot here? How about over near the water?" She looked for Roy, Thomas and Abigail. "Are you all ready to eat? We're going to head over by the water to eat I think."

George did a fine balancing act juggling all the bowls that Ruby kept buying and handing to him. As he ran out of arm space he finally said "I think we have enough for now Constance, let's go find some shade to eat under. One of those big oaks I saw not far from here."

The eight adventurers find a shady place to sit a short distance from the market on the upper bank overlooking the Saint Johns River. The eight have a variety of different foods, with Mina and James sharing bowls of various rice and fish dishes, the two of them using chopsticks to eat.

The river ranges in width from a half-mile to a full-mile across. Fifteen-to-Eighteen miles inland from where the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean, Jacksonville is a key United States port and the only significant one southeast of Savannah. The port is a beehive of activity, from the large warehouses to the north to the smaller merchant vessels nearer to where they are eating and the various fishing vessels on the opposite shore. A ferry landing is at the end of the roadway just beyond the marketplace, with ferry boats of various size on either side as well as one making its way across.

The racial mixture of the hundreds of dock workers is primarily ogre, half-ogre and human. They do see a large merchant vessel manned primarily by Chinese orcs and half-orcs. Several of the fishing vessels appear to have elvan crew. And at a large military dock are three United States Naval vessels as well as a British Royal Navy vessel, the British ship having several dozen halfling sailors in addition to their human crew. They all sat down to eat and exchanged niceties while they did.

Roy stretched out in the grass, enjoying the warm sun and the cool breeze. He ate a bit here and there, mainly between sips from his flask. He didn't say a lot, which was kind of strange for the little man with the big mouth, but he had gotten caught up in the moment. He figured he would let the rest of the folks make their introductions and discuss business. He was content to simply lie there and let life pass him by.

Thomas sat and leaned back against a great live oak tree next to the river, enjoying the repast of fresh foods the group had purchased from the market. Content and relaxed from the meal, he removed his riding boots to feel the touch of the grass against his feet and between his toes. He stretched out his legs, cramped from the train, and basked in the warm sun and humid air, which wasn't all that different than that of his native Bermuda.

He listened to the conversations around him, but remained mostly quiet other than a smile and a nod here and there, with a quick exchange or reply here and there. Mostly, Thomas was just happy to be sitting in the sun, in the midst of friends, old and new, living in the joy of the moment.

Ruby looked at Abby, Thomas and Roy. "So, how was your all trips? Where did you come from?" Her question about their travels broke his reverie. A strange and beautiful woman, he thought to himself, with something unsettling about her, although not necessarily in a bad way. He had the sense that, like Abigail, there was a lot more to her than what simply met the eye. A feeling he'd felt before, not unlike that which he felt in the presence of his mother ... the mystique of power held in check by a strong force of will.

"Well, Miss West," Thomas replied, "my travels were mostly fair and somewhat accommodating, with only a little of the usual ... ahem... travails that one of ogrish descent might expect to encounter in the heart of what was once the Confederacy. I am a native of Bermuda, born and raised, with a small estate there bequeathed to me from my mother in England. Parker's letter reached me there, and I traveled by sea to Montreal, and then by rail to Cleveland, doing the odd task here or bit of research there at Parker's request, before arriving here in Jacksonville."

"Bermuda to Florida by way of Montreal?" asks George quizzically "Rather circuitous route don't you think Dr. Sapathwa-Crane?" James Parker has finished his meal and wanders over, hearing the question. "Yes Mr. Eastman, I asked a few of my old friends to run a few errands along the way, primarily research. I suspect that I may soon have some rather extraordinary things to share with all of you, but wanted to first do some final confirmation....just to be sure."

Ruby exclaims, "Bermuda? Bermuda! That's so exotic! You have to tell me ALL about it Dr. S-sa-ppat-wa, er... Thomas. What's it like there? Is it really hot all the time? And beaches, is it all beaches there? What kind of people live there? What kind of food do you eat there?" Ruby continued to pepper the poor man with questions until George placed a hand on her arm and she blushed. "Well, maybe you can tell me all about it later." She went back to her lunch, finishing her roll. "So James, was your research confirmed then?"

He replies, "I should know by tomorrow, I clearly haven't had a chance to review what my dear friend Doctor Thomas Crane has brought me, and I'll also need to review items arriving on the next train with our friend Lawrence Cantrell. Speaking of which, we should finish up this meal soon and be making our way back to the train depot."

As they relaxed under the trees Abigail eventually pulled most of the pins out of her hair and let it fall. It felt good to bake in the sun for a while, especially after having been in England for a while. It had been harder on her than she liked to admit, being in that rainy country and missing the warm sunshine of her home. Florida was close enough. She listened to the others talk and offered her own comments where they seemed to fit. She wasn't shy by nature, but just now her mind was busy making notes about her new companions and trying to find how they were all going to fit together.

Meanwhile the train with the aforementioned Cantrell and his colleagues Trout and Hardin is now ten miles to the west of Jacksonville and beginning to slow down as there are now a number of residential country roads that cross the track. The cotton fields outside are now intermixed with several small towns as the city nears in the distance.

After lunch was mostly finished Ruby approached Nanuet, who had stayed off to the side. She offered him a package. "Here, I got this lunch for Maska. I hope she is doing okay?" Nanuet accepts the package from Ruby and smiles warmly. "Very kind of you Ruby, I am sure Maska will appreciate it. I haven't had much of a chance to tend to her and I am concerned how she'll do in this climate, but she's an extraordinary animal so I am sure she'll be fine. Last train coming in now? That's good, I too am eager to get more information on what we'll be doing, it is exciting starting something new and meeting new people."

"I would not worry too much Nanuet. The Red Wolf is found all over the South, even as far as the Everglades here in Florida. So while Maska may need to adjust, I am sure he will do as well as his red cousins." Says George "Your knowledge of the local fauna is impressive Mr. George and that does help put me at ease. She'll be fine, I'm sure." George laughed. "Well, I am at a disadvantage you know Nanuet, it's not like I can see her to judge that for myself" replies George with a wink.

After that Ruby rounds up the group, "Time to go get the newbies off the last train then we can head to... where ever is it we're going. I'm so excited to find out what we'll be spending our next bit of time doing!" As they walked back Abigail walked near Dr. Crane. "I see you've been keeping your cards close to your chest again, Doctor," she said lightly. "Then again, I have my own secrets. I get the feeling among this group, secrets will have to go by the wayside." Thomas looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun, to see Abigail's face in a corona of tawny gold, looking down at him. Secrets indeed, he thought to himself, and one that I dare not to reveal to you ever...

Although struck nearly dumb by her beauty, he caught himself from staring too long, fearful that her bright blue eyes might be able to bore straight into his heart. He stood up, brushing the grass off his pants and jacket, chuckling as he said "That may be true, Miss Marsters, but I assure you that for my part, I'll not pry where I am not welcome, and will do my best, as any gentleman should, to preserve and protect your reputation and privacy. As for secrets of mine, you know well that I am an open book, guileless and incapable of hiding anything, especially from you."

James Parker leads them over to the track and they arrive right as the train is pulling in. Ruby takes George's hand and squeezes it, excitedly waiting for the train to stop and the next set of companions to disembark. The Parkers step forward as a trio of familiar human males step off from the train. Lawrence strides forward and shakes Parker's hand. "James, how've you been? You're looking well. I got your cable and came as fast as I could." He replies, "It is good to see you too old friend. You are somebody who I can always count on." Lawrence looks over the assembled group. "Quite the team you've put together old friend."

James replies, "Well the last time I took on a project of this magnitude, twenty years ago, we put together a team of fourteen, ten male and four female. Given the success of that experience I decided to do the same again this time. And we'll have half-a-dozen of us from before, as in addition to us five standing here Lawrence we also have our dear friend Sol waiting back at the house." Lawrence hugs Mina and says, "Mina, my dear. You look as lovely as ever. I bet you've had your hands full keeping James out of trouble." She replies, "Not lately, he's been down here without me since the middle of June. I'm quite anxious to see exactly what kind of trouble he has decided to now get all of us into."

With his duffle slung across his shoulder, Benjamin closes the gap between them with feline grace, grinning like a cat. "Lady Wilamina! So good of you to meet our train!" Fish pats his bag, and then mutters to her softly, "I have your package." Hardin's sharp eyes take note of Ben's boots for perhaps the first time: they are soft-soled and exquisitely tailored, but they also appear to have been deliberately smeared with dust. Hardin arches an eyebrow and whispers under his breath. "That lad is odd..."

He then extends his hand to James. "Mr. Parker, good to see you again. I really appreciate the invitation and don't suppose you had anything to do with that...spectacle in Talahassee." James give's him an odd look and says, "I'm not sure exactly what you are speaking of, but I can take a guess. If it had anything to do with our good Governor Bloxham I'm not at all surprised. That man will do anything for attention. Ever since he decided to sell off the Everglades to balance the State's budget it's just been one headline story after another for him."

Hardin tips his hat to Mina. "Ma'am. Mr. John Wesley Hardin - reformed man - at your service." He offers Mina a crooked grin as he dips his head in a slight bob. His eyes, however, stay level, taking in every detail of their surroundings, quickly noting potential threats and out-of-place people.

Ruby stepped forward to the two new men. She started with the first man, who obviously knew her grandmother. She gave him a little curtsy. "Ruby West," she smiled, "Mina is my grandmother. Pleasure to meet you sir," she said, offering her hand. Fish grasps it politely and smiles at the pretty lady. "I'd kiss your hand if I were a gentleman..." he says with a twinkle in his eye. "Unfortunately, I'm just a circus hand. Benjamin Trout, at your service. My friends call me 'Fish'."

"A circus hand!" Ruby exclaimed, "Well that must be an interesting job! I am a performer myself actually, we'll have to sit down and tell stories one day soon. It's very nice to meet you, Fish." She paused for just a moment, "Why Fish? Because of your last name?" "Well, not exactly..." replies Ben. Ruby nodded to the next man and did the same thing, smiling and offering her hand. She thought he looked familiar but wasn't positive but... something about the way he acted was familiar too and was off putting. Something about his eyes...

Roy makes his way to the front and shakes Lawrence's hand. "Long time, no see, Lawrence," he says with a wink and a grin. "I promise not to tell too many tells of our times in Spain." He offers his hand to Hardin. "And you are?" “John Wesley Hardin,” the man replies. After Roy introduces himself to Hardin, Lawrence slaps Roy on the back. "Roy you devil, you. What's it been, six years? Ever since the funeral."

The three who exited the last train were an odd combination. One introduced himself as John Wesley Hardin and Abby leaned to Dr. Crane and whispered, "The Gunslinger? Mr. Parker is full of surprises." Thomas smiled as they walked towards the trio. "Indeed he is, Miss Marsters, indeed he is. No truer words were ever uttered." When her turn came she offered a handshake. "Mr. Hardin. If someone had told me even an hour ago I'd be meeting you today, I'd have said they were crazy."

Hardin takes all of the glad-handing, introductions and other hubbub in stride. He is very polite to the ladies, although those who are observant can tell he is clearly uncomfortable with all the commotion and people. His hands barely flinch when Fish tosses the fabric into the coach and he flashes the carney that crooked smile that stops at the bridge of his nose.

For the most part though, he maintains a stoic demeanor, responding in clipped sentences when spoken too and offering little substantiative to the general conversation. His eyes, however, are everywhere...silently taking the measure of everyone aboard. If someone catches him staring, he holds eye contact for an uncomfortably long period of time before offering a perfunctory nod with a thin-lipped smile.

Gathering up the luggage goes rather fast as all three men have learned to travel light. Nanuet greeted the new arrivals and offered to help carry bags to the coach. They head over to the large elaborate coach. Fish walks up to greet the horses. He rubs the lead mare between its eyes. "Governor treatin' you right, girl?" he says softly, glancing in Parker's direction and reaching into his pocket for a carrot stick.

Thomas turned away to gather his bag, and looked up as Parker called everyone to the carriage. "I believe, Miss Marsters, that is our call to leave. Shall we?" He extended his arm out for Abigail to take, as they readied for their departure. "Lead on, good sir," she said and laid her hand on the offered arm.

James says, “You may as well all get comfortable, the house and archaeology dig are twelve miles away and these sandy roadways tend to be slow. It will probably take us close to another two hours to get there.” Nanuet states, "Anybody mind if I take a seat up top? I'd prefer that after the long train ride." "Sure, I'll be happy for your company," James says. The two of them climb up top and quickly secure the luggage from the three new arrivals.

The interior of the carriage is very spacious, having been made to accommodate thirteen passengers. The coach interior is designed to comfortably seat thirteen human-sized passengers, four in the rear bench facing forward, two in the center bench facing back, one on the side center bench facing the side double doors, two on the center bench facing forward and four on the front bench facing back. So there is plenty of space for the nine humanoids and the invisible wolf.

Fish takes a seat near Wilamina and sets his duffle across his lap, having declined to have it stowed with the rest of the luggage. Once they start across the river, he asks her in a very low voice, "When did you want your package, m'lady?" She whispers back, "In private, after we get to the house."

Ruby hopped in the coach. "Well, this is very cozy for all of us. I hope someone is a good storyteller for the next couple of hours..." Abby replies, "Most of my stories revolve around University girls sneaking off the campus to go into town and drink and dance. Once you've heard one of them you've heard them all. Our time in England was mostly rain."

The Concord Coach heads down the street and reach the St. Johns River and ride onto a long steam-powered barge-style ferry boat to take them across the two-thirds-of-mile span of river. The current appears to be strong but the vessel has no difficulty traversing the water. There is a large amount of boat and ship traffic this afternoon. In the distance a few miles to the east they see some small hills with stately plantation-style mansions upon them.

Lawrence points to the mansions. He asks, "Is that where we're going? Doesn't look like the place for an archaeological dig. Might mess up the lawn." Mina replies, "James said twelve miles, so it will be further away than those mansions. His letters spoke of having a large group of students helping him with the digs this summer, so I imagine the lawn will indeed be rather torn up at our destination." He replies, “That's good, then. That means fewer gawkers and prying eyes."

Once on the other side of the river the carriage passes what looks and smells to be the part of the outer city where fishermen work and live. After then traveling through a short forested section they find that they are again traveling again through farm lands, with the main crop in this section appearing to be rice, irrigated from canals connected to the river. As the road takes an incline they can see the plantation-style mansions that were visible from the river, most with citrus groves nearby. The rice fields then change to fields with other crops, with some being corn and beans in addition to sugarcane.
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Silver Moon

Chapter Eight, “The Timucuan Conservatory,” September 1st, 1882, 2:30 P.M.

After traveling for approximately eight miles north and east through farmlands since crossing the river on its southerly flow around Jacksonville, they once again come upon the mighty river. From this point onward the river flows primarily east to the Atlantic Ocean approximately eight miles away.

They soon approach a bridge over a stream with a small pond surrounded by houses to the south of the bridge. Immediately north of the bridge is a good-sized cove flowing out just south of the Saint Johns River. Docks with small fishing boats line the cove. There are also several mills along this side of the shore, each with driveways out to this roadway. It is mid-afternoon and all of the mills are in full production, the various mill workers looking to be an even mix of human and ogre.

A short distance after the bridge there is also a large wooden building with the signs “Mill Cove General Store” and “Saint Johns River Eastern Postal Office” above the doorway. James Parker stops the coach in front of the store and climbs down from the top. He stops to tell those inside “I’m just going to go inside to check and see if we received any mail today. We still have another two-and-a-half miles to go until we reach the house. Please feel free to get out and stretch your legs.”

He then adds, “This is also the closest store to the house if you should ever need to purchase anything. On weekdays one of us makes a daily trip here to check for mail. The proprietor is Casey Remmick and the postmaster is his uncle, Heath Remmick.”

Fish clambers out of the coach. He saunters up to the horses, running his open palm along their haunches. "Tough ol' girl!" he mutters affectionately to the mare he'd fed the carrot earlier. "You're so strong, and you're oh so-o-o brave. It's a hot day to have had to drag us all this far. I hope your groomsman gives you a good brushing when you get back to the barn!" He tousles her ears.

Ben then steps into the general store. "Mr. Remmick, I'd like your best bottle of bourbon." He peruses the fabrics on display. He locates the one he'd hoped to find, and has Remmick cut him a half-yard. With his bourbon tucked under his arm and the cloth wrapped up with twine, he bounds back into the coach. He tosses the black & white striped fabric toward Hardin's lap with a wink. "I bet you're grateful not to be wearing that pattern anymore."

Waking up for the first time during the trip, Roy catches a glimpse of the bottle in Fish’s lap. "You're gonna share that, right?" Roy says as he rubs his eyes and grins. "Trust me, I'm little so I don't drink much." With a grin that lights up his face, Fish replies, "I'd be honored to bend elbows with you, little man!" He looks across the cab and adds, "You a drinking man, John Hardin? Care to join us?" Hardin brightens up a bit at the prospect of a good bourbon, however. "Well certainly, Mr. I would be happy to sample that bottle. Although from the looks of Mr. Huggins there, you probably should have gotten two!"

Lawrence gets out of the coach, excusing himself as he climbs over people to get out. He raises his arms above his head to stretch out his aching back. He checks his watch and says, "At least we're making good time." Ruby had hopped out of the coach to stretch her long legs. She wandered into the store to have a good look around. She had grown used to the large and cosmopolitan stores of New York City and this was much smaller than that. "I'm glad I brought everything I need," she commented under her breath.

She smiled and introduced herself to Mr. Remmick as James's granddaughter-in-law. "I hope he hasn't been too bothersome Mr. Remmick, I think this one is a troublemaker," she laughed. Casey Remmick is a short man in his late-twenties who has already acquired a middle-aged-spread around his middle. He has light brown hair that has started to receed, with a bushy beard and mustache and gold caps on most of his teeth. He says, "No trouble at all, he's one of my best customers these last few months. Any friend or relative of his is a friend of mine."

"And if he trusts you, I do too. Would I be able to mail letters from here? I have a little brother at home who I promised I would write." He replies, "Certainly, my Uncle Heath is the postmaster here. There is no mail delivered on weekends and today's mail has already gone out, but if you get it to us by Monday we will be sure to send it out." "Excellent, thank you very much!" Ruby glanced to the door. "Well, looks like it's time to go, pleasure meeting you and I'll get that letter to you soon." She gave him a little wave before hurrying back outside and climbing into the coach next to George. "The owner was very nice."

James exits the store carrying a wrapped package around one-foot-square and three letters. He hands one of the letters to Dr. Crane stating, “Our timing is good, you have mail that arrived for you today from Bermuda." Still seated in the carriage as the others shopped in Remmick's store, Thomas looks up from his reading, surprise in his eyes, extending his hand to take the letter "Really? Hmmm, I certainly hope it's not bad news from Kuung Fong (Thomas' half-orc manservant tending his small estate back in Bermuda).

He then turns to several of his companions who had exited the coach and says softly, "You should all know that Mr. Remmick and I have an arrangement with the ship that brings in International mail from the Carribean islands, it gets dropped off here on the ship's journey down the river and therefore never falls under the inspection of United States Customs agents in Jacksonville." Abby kept her voice just as quiet and raised an eyebrow. "You find it necessary to do that? What have I gotten myself into here?" Keeping his voice low as well James replies with a smile, "Why, Nothing more than the secrets of Atlantis."

The coach resumes its journey, after a half-mile reaching a fork in the road on which they turn northward, following the road a half-mile inland from the eastern shore of Mill Cove. The passengers have an excellent view westward, seeing not only the cove but several miles of the main river to the west and dozens of islands on the river varying in size from a half-acre to a triangular island to the northwest that is almost two miles on each side. The road heads this way for over a mile before forking again, the wider road going left and heading out to a western peninsula above the northeastern side of the cove. James turns right onto the less traveled roadway.

Ruby leaned forward in her seat to get a better look out the window. "That water looks so beautiful, such a clear blue color like I have never seen! Will we be getting to swim?" Hearing that, Fish keeps his filthy thoughts to himself.

Mina laughs and says, "I imagine so." She gestures over to a sandy section of the cove where some young children are playing in the sand and says, "There looks to be a beach over there. The river itself is probably too swift but that cove appears to be calm enough."

They soon reach a point where the roadway it is blocked by a metal-and-wooden locked gate, with a wooden post-and-beam fence, running north for a half-mile until it reaches the river and south for at least a mile before turning eastward. Beside the gate is a large wooden six-by-four foot sign, painted white with dark red lettering. The sign reads:


Established jointly by Bradford Academy of Massachusetts and the AGELESS Corporation of New York, this Conservancy is dedicated to the preservation of the cultural history and artifacts associated with the extinct Timucuan tribe of Native American Elves.

Per proclamation on June 23, 1882 by Florida Governor William D. Bloxham this tract of land in and around San Mateo Hill is hereby protected and any trespassers upon this land will be subject to immediate arrest and prosecution.

Lawrence looks at the sign as they pass. "We're entering elven lands? The plot thickens." I knew someone in New Orleans who collected Timucani artifacts. Word is he couldn't keep track of 'em all!" says Fish nonchalantly. He casts a furtive glance at Wilamina.

The carriage slows but does not stop and as the lead horses approach the gate, with the gate unlocking and rising on its own from both sides, allowing the carriage to continue onward. Once they are through, the two gates lower again and appear to automatically re-lock. Once they are beyond the gate, the passengers see that running both north and south the full-length of the fence is a stone pathway two-feet across, with a similar stone pathway now running parallel to the right side of the road. Beyond the path are rows of citrus trees running parallel the roadway on its southern side, the north side remaining open for a view of the river.

Nanuet read the sign carefully, doing his best to decipher the written words that are still somewhat foreign to him. "Mr. James, what exactly made the Timucan tribe extinct, and why are you interested in preserving their cultural history?"

James replies, "That is one of the mysteries we are seeking to unravel. We are quite fortunate to have here working with us the nation's foremost historian on Native American culture and history, as she has lived over three centuries of it herself. The Timucan occupied quite a bit of land that is now northern Florida and southern Georgia. They were a people set apart from other Elves, up to a foot taller in height and with a language unrelated to all other North American native languages. They also were among the only tribes to refuse to participate in the Great Conclave. At the time of the first contact with Europeans they numbered 50,000.

Curiously, they took on a unique attitude towards the Europeans, viewing them as friends. That was part of their downfall, being too trusting of the Spanish. As happened with most elvan tribes, a great many of them died of diseases brought by the Europeans, although the Timucan appeared to have greater immunities to those than other elves. All but one of the twelve Timucan tribes disappeared primarily through intermarriage with the Spanish and abandoning their previous way of life, with several tribes relocating as a group to other Spanish colonies in the Americas, and upon reaching there then abandoning their own culture and adapting to that of their new homes.

The one exception was the Saturiwa tribe, who resided in this exact area. They disappeared almost overnight, a plague is suspected as the cause although no bodies were found. Many theories exist, by tomorrow I should know if there is a new theory about that."

The road makes a gradual turn to the left in the direction of the south shore of the Saint Johns river, going for a quarter mile before turning east a quarter-mile in and continues parallel the river from one-hundred feet away. "Well, looks like we can have fresh orange juice with breakfast every day!" She turned to her grandmother. "Nana, do you know how many other people are living or working here? Will we be meeting more people when we get there or are we mainly the team working on this project?"

Nana says, "There are at least three others who have been working the archealogical site that will be part of our team. During the summer there was also a team of students from the Bradford Academy listed on the sign, but they would have gone back to Massachusetts by this time." Ruby exclaims, "I can't wait to find out what we're doing. I admit, the thought of digging in the dirt every single day sounds boring but with this group you've assembled, I don't think that is what we're here for." She takes George's hand excitedly. "Nana, I know things will get very crazy here once we arrive but I'd like to talk to you about something in private, at some point when we get the chance."

She glanced around the group. Most were looking out the window, curious to see where they were headed, others were making small talk. "I am glad we're almost there. It's hard to make friends in a coach!" Though immediately after speaking those words Ruby recalled one of the first days of January of that very year, when she had met some special people who would change her life forever. And it made her smile.

A short distance later they reach a section where there is a long dock on the river that appears to be recently constructed. There are three boats tied to the dock, two being plain small sailboats approximately fifteen-feet in length, each with a fair degree of wear-and-tear. The other boat is a thirty-two-foot-long luxury sailboat that appears to be brand new.

Immediately after the dock is a pair of buildings, both twenty-five by forty feet in size. One is a dilapidated single-story building of clapboard construction with cotton curtains over the window openings and a roof made of a patchwork tin-and-steel remnants that have been welded together. Beside it is a freshly constructed two-story building made from solid wood timbers, with glass windows that have fancy hand-carved shutters, and with slate shingles on the roof.

Three men with brushes are busy painting the building white. One of these men is a human who looks to be around forty years in age. Another is a half-ogre who looks to be around thirty. The third is an ogre who looks to be around twenty. Sitting on the ground near the men is a quartet of hound dogs. The three stop painting and wave to Parker as the carriage passes by.

As the carriage continues to move away down the road, a young woman who appears to be in her late teens exits the building, bringing a platter with a glass pitcher of lemonade and glasses to the painters. She is a shapely and ravishing beauty with fully human features, the only indication of any ogre blood being her caramel-colored skin and six-and-a-half-foot height.

Fish again keeps his filthy thoughts to himself. Roy pours himself a drink and enjoys it. "Thank you, sir." As he drinks, his eyes make their way toward the tall woman bearing the tray of lemonade. "Oh what I wouldn't give to climb that tree," he says to no one in particular. Thomas eyes also following the coffee-skinned woman with obvious interest, then his head towering over the gnome as he looks down. "Indeed, Mr. Huggins, indeed," with a stern tone in his deep voice, but obvious mirth in his eyes at Roy's muttered aside.

Hardin’s eyes also follow the coffee skinned woman as the coach slides by, reluctantly tearing his eyes away after Roy's comment. He frowns a bit at the gnome, clears his throat and nods toward Ruby. "Mr. Huggins, have a care for our company." Roy turns quickly. "Huh? Oh yeah." Roy quickly downs his drink and looks at Ruby. "I'd be willing to climb you, too," he says to her with a sly grin, winking at George at the same time. He anticipates a slap in 3...2....1....

Ruby's eyebrow shot up but she smirked. George would certainly be offended but the comment just made her want to laugh. "I realize that we don't really know each other yet boys, but you'll find that it's likely I've been in worse situations and places than some of you have." She set her hazel eyed gaze on Roy, her smirk growing. "I don't doubt you'd like to climb me Mr. Huggins. Unfortunately for you those days are over and my fiance here would probably not be too happy with the idea of sharing me with anyone. Nor my grandmother or her husband James either."

Roy smiles and turns back to Hardin. "Well, I tried," he says with a shrug. Hardin tries to give Roy his best "dead-eye" stare and fails... He just laughs, shakes his head and tips his hat to Ruby and Abigail. "My apologies, ladies" "None needed, but thank you. That's sweet. I'm sure Abby here knows how to take care of herself just as well as I do but it's always nice to have a valiant hero step in."

Ruby crossed her arms and leaned back in her seat, crossing one leg over the other casually and says to Roy, "You didn't try very hard, now did you?" she laughed. "Well, now I feel left out," Abigail laughed, obviously amused by the whole conversation. She had been quiet since Mr. Parker mentioned Atlantis. It opened a whole new set of questions, including how much did he really know about her. Anyone who knew much about New Orleans would suspect that someone born and raised there would know a little arcane magic, and Atlantis was the lost seat of all Arcane knowledge. It seemed in this company she would have no secrets, and it was a relief.

"Oh you're always free to join us, miss," Roy says with a smile. She replies, "We're going to be working together, so you might as well call me Abigail. Or Abby, or even Gail. I'm not peculiar about it. Miss Marsters is so formal." "I'm just warming up," Roy says to Ruby with a wink. He turns to Abigail. "Well feel free to call me Roy because, well, that's my name."

Mina had been enjoying the banter between the group, finding it funny that the girls had already figured out how to counter Roy rather than be shocked by his antics. For decades Mina herself had been the main target of his letcherous comments and inuendo, but those comments stopped the very day she married James. And she was sure it had nothing to do with the marriage vows, her prior marriage never curailed the gnome....even when her husband was present.

Ruby laughed again at Roy. "You and I need to play cards, I think. You do play cards, right Roy?" Roy shook his head. "Never played a day in my life, Miss." Upon hearing that Mini has to turn her head away from others to suppress her laughter. Ruby says, "Well, then perhaps I can teach you. I'm okay... sometimes." Then she cracked up. "I like you Roy, you're interesting." Roy answers, "If by interesting you mean 'sexy in a dangerous kind of way,' then you've got me pegged."

She says, "Of COURSE that is what I meant Roy, what else would I have meant?" She flashed him her brilliant grin. Oh, this trip was going to be fun. Fish giggles, teasing, "She called you 'interesting'! Next thing you know, she'll be telling all her friends that you have 'a nice personality'!" Roy gives Fish a sly wink and a barely perceptible nod. "Don't fret Fish, you can earn a nice personality too if you try hard enough," Ruby teased. "Of which I have no doubt you will."

The continuous grove of citrus trees soon ends as the carriage approaches a slight hill rising to an elevation of no more than one-hundred feet. At the top is a flat thirty-acre plateau. As they continue to climb the hill to the plateua what stands out the most on the plateau is the newly constructed building at the top, presumably the ‘house’ that Parker previously referenced. Calling this building a house is a gross understatement, as before them is a four-story tall mansion with four-chimmnies that has a two story-wraparound porch on two of the sides that is supported by grand round columns.

The building is painted white with red trim that matches the color of the red bricks of the chimneys. It is rectangular, some seventy-five-by fifty feet in size for the first and second floor excluding the proch which runs ten feet out on both the entire north and west sides. The porch columns are spaced ten-feet apart except for a twenty-foot section on the front north wall facing the river with a wide front staircase down to the ground and a fifteen foot section at the southwest end of the porch with another staircase goes down to the ground.

A forty-five degree angled slate shingle roof comprises the third and forth floors. The third floor has six fifteen-foot wide flat-roofed dormers that have with large glass picture windows. Two of these are on each longer side wall with another on each of the front and back walls. The fourth floor has four ten-foot wide flat-roofed dormers with shuttered windows, one in the center of each side. The angled roof ends at a ten-by-thirty-five foot flat rectangular roof, with the building’s four chimneys at each of the four corners of this section and a white-painted iron fence on all sides. Several telescopes of different size are mounted to this area of the roof.

Ruby says, "Please tell me this is where we are staying. It's amazing!!" She leaned forward in her seat to get a better view of the house, maybe a little too far forward. Fish.again keeps his filthy thoughts to himself. Ruby states, "Is that a... telescope... on the roof? To look at the stars?" "I believe so," Mina tells her granddaughter.

The carriage crests the top of the hill. A barn is on the hill on the opposite side of the building. Two other structures are near the building, one being a twenty-by-fifteen foot storage shed with the barn-style doors open to reveal it filled with barrels, buckets, shovels, several wheelbarrow, mallets, poles and ropes. Leaning against the back wall is a group of eight bicycles, each with large front wheels and small rear wheels. Hanging on hooks on the wall above the bicycles Benjamin Trout also catches a glance of a pair of unicycles, a mode of transportation he is quite proficient with.

Grinning with what his comrades are beginning to recognize as his trademark mirth, Fish asks Mina, "Will I be sleeping the in barn again, m'lady?" He feigns a small frown, lip trembling. Smiling back she says, "I'm sure James has something more suitable for you. But depending upon your antics you might still wind up in the barn at some point." "Not if she values the sanctity of her sheep." whispers George to Ruby causeing her to snort as she tried to suppress her laugh. Ruby giggled, "George Eastman!" she admonished him but squeezed his hand. "I think I have been a bad influence on you!"

The other structure is a Native American style-building that is oval shaped being fifteen-feet-long and eight-feet-wide with a curved roof. The walls are made of deerskin. Five feet in front of the building is a stone fireplace with an iron cauldron handing above it on a tripod. Towards the southeastern rear of the hillside plateau is a small corral and adjacent twenty-by-thirty foot single-story unpainted barn of new construction with a pitched roof.

The thing that mars the possible beauty of this plantation-like setting is the total lack of a well-manicured lawn. There is no grass at all on the plateau, just plain dirt and gravel interspersed with several more of the two-foot-wide stone pathways. The ugliest and most prominent feature on the lawn are the dozens of large holes and dirt mounts dug throughout the hillsides and the plateau, some with posts and roped off areas around the holes. This destruction makes this plot of land surrounding the mansion to more closely resemble the craters of the moon rather than a fine southern plantation.

As the carriage passes them by, Thomas examines the holes with great interest. Poking his head out the window of the slowing coach the half-ogre states, "Parker, you do keep your cards close to your vest. I am most intrigued by the work that you've been doing here, and simply cannot wait to hear about it!"
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Silver Moon

Chapter Nine, “James’s Associates” September 1st, 1882, 4:00 P.M.

A trio of individuals is sitting upon two of the several porch swings and they stand as the carriage approaches up the drive. Two are dark-haired human males dressed in suits, dress shirts, ties and hats. One appears to be a thin man with a short beard and mustache who appears to be in his late thirties or early forties. Lawrence, Mina, Roy and Thomas recognize him as their old friend Solomon Star, a man with great entrepreneural vision. The other man looks to be a few years older, slightly plump, with eyeglasses and a salt-and-pepper mid-length beard and a receding hairline. He is not known to anybody upon the coach except for the Parkers.

The third person is an attractive female elf who is the human equivalent of mid-thirties. She has long black hair tied back with a white-and-tan bow. She is attired in leather sandals, tan cotton pants, a leather belt with several belt pouches handing from it, a short-sleeved white cotton shirt and a buckskin vest. For jewelry she has bracelets on both wrists, both silver with small stone inlayed, a ring on her right hand, and a silver necklace with a locket. Mina smiles and waves at her friend. Although the elvan woman was never a member of the Civil War team Lawrence, Roy and Thomas have each met this member of the former Wampanoag tribe on several previous occasions.

The carriage comes to a stop in the driveway before the front porch steps as the trio descend and James Parker assists his wife down. Mina immediately rushes up to the elvan woman and they give each other a big hug. Mina asks her “Have you been keeping our James out of trouble Alsoomse?” “As if anybody could!” the elvan woman replies.

Ruby hopped over the others to get out of the coach after her grandmother. She stood behind her patiently, smoothing down the wrinkles on her travel dress while the woman and her grandmother greeted each other. They must be good friends to greet each other this way, Ruby mused. Once her grandmother stepped back, Ruby extended her hand and smiled. "Ruby West, it's a pleasure to meet you."

The elvan woman smiles and says, "And it is a pleasure to finally meet you as well. Mina's letters said that you two looked a lot alike, I see that is definitely the case. You are the spitting image of her when she was your age." "You knew my grandmother when she was my age? I'd love to hear all about that," Ruby laughed. "I've always wondered if I was much like her."

Alsoomse says, "We'll have plenty of time later to discuss it in detail. The short version is that I first met her back in the 1820's shortly after she, James and each of their mates returned from Egypt. The four of them were guests at mine and my husband's home on the island of Martha's Vineyard for the better part of a year." Ruby's eyes widen. "I would LOVE to hear those stories. I hope to get to Egypt myself one day too. Maybe I'll get in the same trouble as Nana did," she winked at her grandmother.

Mina turns to the group and says, “This is Alsoomse, she is originally from Plymouth, Massachusetts. As a girl she witnessed the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock and attened the First Thanksgiving.” James walks over and affectionately wraps his arm around the elvan woman while saying, “She has spent most of the last two centuries researching the history and culture of the various tribes of Native Americans Elves. Her work on this project has been of vital importance. She is also a linguistic expert, with resources at hand regarding nearly all of the languages of the world.”

James next introduces the man with the eyeglasses saying “This is Doctor Pedro Luiz Napoleao Chernoviz. He is a world renowned physician, scientific writer and publisher of medical texts. For the last forty years his ‘Prescription Vademecum and Medical Guide’ has been the worldwide standard for the mixing of medical elixers just as his two-volume ‘Popular Medicine and Complementary Sciences Dictionary for Family Use’ is regarded as the world’s best medical guide for non-physicans. His books are also works of art, with the beautiful illustrations and high-quality engravings.”

James adds “Doctor Chernoviz was originally from Poland and earned his medical degree from the University of Warsaw. For the last fifty years his residency has alternated between France and Brazil.” “And since April, the United States,” the Doctor adds. James says, “Yes, in fact it was Luiz here who first brought the archeological site to my attention and the two of us concocted together this idea of the AGELESS Corporation.” The Doctor shakes the hands of each person and says, “Please call me Luiz.” He has a rich baratone voice and voice that gives no hint at all of a foreign accent.

Thomas steps forward, extending his hand, to introduce himself to Dr. Chernoviz. I am Dr. Thomas Sapathwa-Crane -- it's a pleasure to finally meet you. Dr. Chernoviz. Your works are a treasured part of my library collection back in Bermuda." He replies, "A pleasure to meet you as well, James has spoken quite highly of you. And please, call me Luiz."

James then introduces the third man as “And this is Solomon Star. Like Lawrence, Mina, Roy and Thomas, Sol was also a participant with my special team back during the War of Succession. He is an entrepreneur and has spent the last six-years up in that mining boom town of Deadwood, South Dakota. He now co-owns a chain of retail stores throughout the whole Dakota Territories. We are very fortunate that I was able to persuade him to come and help us get this business venture off the ground.”

"Mr. Star," Abigail said, extending a hand, "Living in Deadwood is taking your life in your hands. I hope our times here are just as exciting if a bit less dangerous." He replies, "Deadwood has calmed over the years, when I first got there it was rather wild. My business partner and best friend became Deadwood's Law Enforcement Officer, after which things became much safer for the both of us. As for here, I'll make no promises. James Aloisio Parker and danger often go hand-in-hand."

Nanuet finds himself staring at Alsoomse and turns away in hopes that she doesn't notice. He takes a moment to gather himself before shaking hands with all three of the people who were introduced. He is warmly greeted by all three. When he is still meeting Alsoomse she gestures towards the still-invisible Maska and says with a smile, "I've always liked canines. Would you please introduce me to your companion?" Nanuet looks in the direction that she gestures, then looks back at Alsoomse, then repeats the gesture. He stammers a bit and says "Oh, uh sure. Perhaps a little later when things are settled down, not so many new folks around all at once. Her name's Maska"

Roy heads straight to Alsoomse and takes her hand, kissing it on top. "A pleasure to see you, Alsoomse, if I may be so bold." She lifts him up in the air and gives him a kiss on the cheek saying, "Welcome Roy, I think you'll like it here." As she puts Roy back down, he turns to everyone else. "Any of you ****ers try that and I'll kill you." Roy's face is beet red and it's obvious he was highly embarassed by the gesture. "If you can reach that high!" teases Fish.

He smoothes out his clothes and extends his hand to Solomon. "Good to see you again, sir. I trust all it well on the home front?" Sol says, "Oh, you heard about that then? Well, yes, the trial stretched on for six whole months but at least I was acquitted." "As I assumed you would be," Roy says with a nod. He holds his hand out to the doctor. "Good to meet you, sir." The man returns a firm handshake and says, "The pleasure is all mine, and please, call me Luiz."

Ruby asks Alsoomse, "Is your husband here too?" She replies, "No, I am afraid that he passed away twelve years ago." "Oh I am sorry," Ruby blushed, embarrassed. "Well, I hope you will tell some stories of him too, I'd like to hear about him. And I look forward to getting to know you too. Now, is this were we're staying? I'd love to see the inside of this gorgeous house! That porch looks perfect for a swing and a glass of bourbon to end an evening."

Roy lets his head hang. "'Twas a great shame when he died." His head then came up with a sly smile. "But I will do my best to comfort you in your time of need, Alsoomse." She smiles at Roy and says, "Thank you my friend, but my time of need was seven to twelve years ago as I observed a five-year mourning period after he was gone. He lived to a very old age for a human and our marriage lasted for more than a century. I have many fond memories as well as a wonderful daughter, grandson, great-grandson and great-granddaughter. And I now have a new and exciting job as the Secretary of the AGELESS Corporation to keep me busy." "Well then, by all means, tell me all about it..." he says as he offers her his arm and escorts her into the mansion.

James suggests that they head inside and leads them up to the porch. The front entrance consists of a pair of five-foot wide wooden doors with frosted glass windows and elaborate gold knobs and doorknockers. The north wall of the building continues for twenty-five feet to the left of the doors and fifteen feet to the right, so when adding in the additional ten-feet of porch also to the right the doors are exactly centered. Above the door is another white-and-red TIMUCUAN CONSERVANCY sign, with the exact same wording as the larger sign out by the main gate.

James and Solomon each open a door in unison and gesture for the party to enter. The room is a vast main lobby/living room, twenty-feet long north-to-south and thirty-feet-wide east-to-west. The room has a pair of fine leather couches with a matching loveseat and six matching chairs. The walls are paneled with a mahogany wood with matching mahogany coffee tables and end tables near the other furnishings. The room has a high ceiling eighteen-feet up as this room occupies this space in both the first and second floors. An elaborate chandelier hangs from the center of the ceiling and illuminates the room.

The front doors are on the north wall of the room five feet in from the northeast corner. Five feet west of the main doors is a staircase that goes up a few steps to a landing in the northwest corner of the room then continues up along the western wall to a door to the second floor. There are exterior windows along the staircase but the drapes are currently drawn. In the space beneath the staircase is a wooden saloon-type bar with a hinged opening along the south wall and behind the bar is are multiple shelves of glasses of various sizes and assorted bottles of liquors. On the side wall of the staircase is an elaborate carved sign that reads:

Adventurers Guild of Exemplary and Legendary Explorers, Scientists and Scholars

The south wall has one door five feet in from the side wall below the staircase, which James gestures to and says, “That door leads to the side hallway, with a door out to the side porch. The hallway also has a pair of water closets in case any of you should need to use one after the long journey here.”

Next on the south wall is a pair of hinged swinging double doors five to eleven feet further east, then northwest chimney. Each of the four chimneys are five feet square but angled diagonal rather than parallel the house, thus two of the four sides of this chimney point into the room. There are metal grates along the chimney throughout the eighteen foot length to the ceiling to heat the room when needed. One side of the northeast chimney also points into the room in the corner, with a four-foot-wide door between the two chimneys on the south wall.

The east wall runs seventeen feet from the chimney to the north wall. Along these walls are two doors. The door closest to the north wall has a metal plaque that reads:

AGELESS Corporation Chairman
Doctor Pedro Luiz Napoleao Chernoviz

The other door has a metal plaque that reads:

AGELESS Corporation President & Vice President
James A. Parker & Wilamina H. Parker

Sol heads behind the bar and asks, "Would anybody care for a drink?" Fish gestures, "Yes please! Can you mix a Bourbon Street? I find that I'm longing for a bit of New Orleans." He casts a sly glance at Wilamina. "Three fingers of your best whiskey, chased with a little amaretto, over ice, wedge of lemon." Drink in hand, Ben makes his way to one of the couches.

"That sounds excellent, I'll have the same Mr. Star. A bit of home," Abby said in her thick accent. "I thought I would miss New Orleans here in Florida, but looking around this place I think I'm going to be too fascinated to be homesick. Beside being entertained by my new companions."

Roy does his best (worst) Southern accent. "Why ah do believe that, when in Florida, we should do as the Floridians do. Ah would like a mint julip, if you please sir. And for you madam?" he asks of Alsoomse. Sol says, "I know what she drinks." Moments later Sol hands Roy a silver platter with his mint julip and a glass of what looks like iced tea. "

Ruby says, I'll have some tea too, thank you Sol.” He asks, "Regular or Alsoomse blend?" "Um... I'll try Alsoomse's blend I guess, wouldn't want to insult the host," Ruby grinned. Ruby comments, “This place must be new, when was it built?" He replies, "We started early last month, we finished it on Tuesday." She says, "Looks like you got this house done just in time to fill it with people, but that sure seems fast to get this big house out." She says, "Well, I can't wait to see the rest of the house."

Sol replies, "I hired lots of builders, money wasn't an object, time was more important to our benefactor." He hands her the iced tea and says, "You many want to be seated before you sip it, the effect can be a bit disorienting to those who haven't tried it before." "Oh really?" Ruby says curiously, looking into the cup. "It can't be stronger than whiskey!" She takes a seat at the bar, "Cheers!" and takes a big sip of the tea.

Across the room, the gnome brings the platter back to their chairs. "Tea?" Roy asks Alsoomse. "You're not going soft on me, are you girlie?" She smiles and says, "Not exactly, it is my own special blend. A mix of chamomile, spearmint, birchroot and Elixer of Sense Heightening, with two spoonfuls of honey to sweeten it." Roy replies, "Sense heightening, huh? Sounds..... interesting."

Unlike most iced teas, which are made from Oriental black tea, this one tastes like a cross between mint and honey. Ruby takes several sips before she starts to feel different. The room suddenly becomes much brighter and the voices of the others in the room become much louder. She then begins to pick up variety of smells that she identifies as....the leather furniture....fresh paint.....body odors. Looking at her companions new details stick out, not just seeing their faces but the length of fresh beard growth and the pores of their skin.

She takes another sip and can now clearly differentiate other ingredients, also tasting chamomile and a birch taste like that from birch beer. The ice cubes in the glass seem to be much, much colder than they were a minute ago.
Alsoomse approaches her and says, "Perhaps I should take that and get you something else? "Oh no... I love it...," Ruby said with wide eyes, still taking in her surroundings. "It's so... different. How long does this last? Does it get... more... than this?"

Alsoomsee says, "Here, let me at least take it back to the bar and dilute it somewhat for you. There's a bit too much Elixer of Sense Heightening in that glass for somebody who has never had it before. Sol should have known better." "Alright, I trust your judgment." She hands the elf back the glass, practically hearing the drops of condensation falling from it as she did, the mint still tangy on her tongue. George wasn't too near to her yet she very keenly smelled him close by and she looked to him, the corner of her mouth upturning at her favorite scent in the world. "That's some GOOD tea!"

Furrowing his brows with almost burlesque concern, Fish speaks quietly to his shapely companion, "Miss Ruby, you're drooling!" He dabs at the corner of his own mouth to indicate where she is salivating. "Stop yelling, I HEAR YOU!" Ruby said in her own raised voice. She used her tongue to slowly lick her lips, they even tasted a little salty from the hello kisses on the cheeks she had given out not too long ago. "Better?" she asked him with a mischievous grin.

"Why, Miss Ruby," Roy continued in his bad Southern accent. "I do believe you've caught tha vapahs!" She replies, "The what? I don't speak Japanese Roy." "You know, the vapors." Abby produced a fan from some unseen pocket, fanned her face dramatically and sank gracefully into a chair as if she felt faint. "Alas, I left my smellin' salts at home," she laughed.

Nanuet had followed the others into the house and slowly takes in the details of the room. When Sol offers drinks he walks towards the bar and says "Your finest whiskey please good sir." He takes the drink and takes a generous sip. He hears the conversation concerning Ruby and the tea and makes his way towards her slowly, keeping an eye on her to make sure she's okay.

George walks up to the bar asks Sol for a scotch and intercepts the new, diluted tea from Alsoomse and offers his arm to Ruby. "Come my dear let me rescue you from this roy-bald conversation" say George smiling at his pun as he leads Ruby over to the love seat where they sit closely, enjoying their drinks.

Lawrence gets a glass of scotch from the bar. He casually watches the group, noting how they act with each other. He slaps Sol on the back, "How have you been? So, Deadwood, huh? Where have I heard that name before?" Sol answers, "Probably because that's where Wild Bill Hickock got himself killed." Lawrence snaps his fingers, "That must be it. A damn shame. But when you're number's up, it's up. Anyway, I hear you're quite the businessman."

Hardin takes the introductions in stride, gauging the meddle of each as he shakes hands and looks each person full in the face. His gaze isn't challenging, merely inquisitive. At Sol's mention of Hickok, he perks up. "So, Mr. Solomon, where you there when Wild Bill was killed and can you shed any light on what really happened? Most of what I have heard is innuendo and rumor. Mr. Hickok and I became acquainted in Abilene and I considered him a...friend. Did they do justice to that McCall, fellow? Terrible thing for a gunfighter to go down from a bullet in the back..." Hardin keeps his gaze on Sol, but his thoughts seem far away.

Solomon Star replies, "I was in town at the time but not in the saloon. I didn't really know him very well, having just been in town a short while myself. Near as I can tell the newspaper accounts were rather accurate. My business partner Seth Bullock knew him better. And Mr. Hickok and I did have a few other mutual friends."

Lawrence bows to the female elf saying, "And Alsoomse. You look as lovely as ever. I bet your new job as secretary keeps you busy." She smiles and says, "It has so far Lawrence, especially during the summer when this entire hill was crawling with teenage children. While I did enjoy playing 'mother' it is nice to be in the company of just adults again." "That's a nice thing. Sometimes youth rubs off on a person. I promise we won't be nearly as much trouble," Lawrence says with a wink.

James says, “Sol, why don’t you give all of our newcomers a tour of the house and they can each select their bedrooms." Sitting on the love seat with Ruby, George finishes his scotch and sets the glass down. "I suppose then James that you will make us all wait until after dinner for your reasoning for assembling such distinguished company here?" asks George.

James replies, "Oh no, we'll be having company for dinner who shouldn't know of our secrets. I also have some research to do with items and information that have only now arrived with some of you. We will be going over the project in detail tomorrow after lunch, although I imagine that you'll get an idea of some of it from Sol's tour."

Sol replies, "Okay everybody, last call for drinks, we'll start the tour in ten minutes." Lawrence tells the elvan woman, "Looks like we'll have to catch up later. It is good to see you again, Alsoomse." He makes an exaggerated motion to check his pocket watch and shouts to Sol. "It's not even evening and you're cutting us off? That's not good for business." He walks to the bar and says, "I'll have another scotch, if you please. It's pretty good, single malt?"

Roy holds up his glass, now only containing ice, and shakes it at Sol. "Boy, ah say boy, ah believe ah need a refill. And make it a little strongah this time, if you weel." Fish jests, "Sol, he'd like a maraschino cherry with it too -- with a little pink parasol, if you have one." Between the bourbon shared in the coach, and the double he just downed, Fish is feeling his liquor. He doesn't disguise this innuendo about cherries and Ruby nearly so well. Sol actually does, so is able to accommodate Fish's request for Roy's order. Sol then asks Fish "Would you care for one as well?"

Ruby finishes her tea quickly, by the time her cup is empty her face is flush. With her senses on overdrive, it's hard to keep still. Her eyes dart around to catch every light and her ears perk up at every noise. She could even feel the humidity in the air, every tiny drop of water on her skin. "Oh, I LOVE cherries, can I get one too?" She hops up from the couch and bounces over to the bar, where Sol laughs and hands her a bowl of cherries.

Ruby could not believe the vibrant red color or the luscious smell coming from that bowl. She drew a cherry to her full lips and popped it in her waiting mouth. She closed her eyes, savoring the most delicious and tasty cherry she had ever had. "Oh my gods, I am in heaven." She slumped against the bar with a huge grin. "And I don't want to share these! Alsoomse, that tea is so fabulous!!" She finished the small bowl of fruit. "Now THAT was a tasty snack.”

Thomas kept mostly to himself at the gathering of old friends, engaging in light conversation or banter as the circumstance arose, declining Sol's offer of awareness enhancement potions or the like, preferring to keep British custom of having tea only in the late afternoon.

Silver Moon

Chapter Ten, “Touring the First Floor” September 1st, 1882, 4:30 P.M.

Ruby asks cheerfully, “Shall we go see our rooms?" James looks towards Mina and says, "All except for Mina that is, we already know where her bedroom is and I can show her around the house later. For now I wouldn't mind some alone time with my lovely young bride. I think a bicycle ride down to Chicopit Bay sounds in order.” “And where is that darling?” Mina asks. He replies, “Around a mile-and-a-half to the southeast. The way there is one of the many stone bicycle paths that the Academy students built on the property. Much easier to ride on the stones than the sandy soil, plus it gave us something to do with all of the rocks that we kept digging up.”

Alsoomse finishes her drink and says, “While you do that I’ll go put away the carriage and tend to the horses.” "I prefer to stay outdoors if that's alright with you so I won't be needing a room. Alsoomse if you wouldn't mind the company I'll assist you with the carriage and the horses." She replies, "Certainly Nanuet, I would welcome the company." The head outside and instead of climbing up to drive the carriage she goes to the front and leads the first pair of horses from the front yoke. Fish calls out under his breath, impishly, "That first mare likes carrots!"

Luiz also stands and says, “And I will go and pay a visit to the Delroy-Kingsley family to check on how tonight’s dinner is coming along.” James laughs and says to the Doctor, “Or rather, you'll go check on Jasper and Jemima’s daughter Antoinette.” Luiz's face takes on a shocked expression and he answers, “James, How could you ever think such a thing? You know that I’m happily married to my darling wife Julie." James replies, "Your darling wife Julie, who currently resides in Paris, France you mean?" Luiz counters, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder. And I am also old enough to be young Toni’s grandfather! We’re just good friends.” “If you say so,” James chuckles.

After Sol hands Lawrence his drink he exits the bar and says, “We might as well start the tour right here with the Chairman’s Office.” He opens the door to the ten-by-twenty foot room with an eight-foot high roof. It has two large windows on the wall by the porch and another large window on the eastern wall. Between the windows are short bookcases filled with books. In the far corner is a closed roll-top desk. The most prominent feature in the room are a pair of long and deep wooden file cabinets along the south wall, each seven-feet-long, five-feet high and four feet deep.

Near the door is a small desk with a pair of chairs, one on each side of the desk. On the north wall between the two large windows is a framed portrait of the Doctor with his wife and six adult children. On the wall near the desk are several framed certificates in the languages of French, Polish and Portuguese. The only document in English is a license to practice medicine issued by the State of Florida. Fish scans the room for entrances and exits. It's not as though he's casing the joint -- it's force of habit, kinda like how that cowboy fella looks someone up and down every time he meets 'em for the first time.

Sol says, “This is our first of many hidden secrets, our secret hospital. You’ll want to step clear of the filing cabinets.” He goes over to the desk and fiddles with an inkwell made into the desk. As he does so across the room the two apparently hollow file cabinet facades begin to rotate forward and down into the floor and away from the wall, pivoting on an axis built into each cabinet side. The back of the cabinet that had been against the wall therefore pivots upward, now becoming the top. They both eventually come to rest at a ninety-degree angle from where they had been with both having now transformed into state-of-the-art stainless steel medical operating tables. Sol next goes to the roll top desk and inserts a key, turning it clockwise. The desktop rolls up and the lower drawer extend, revealing themselves to contain several dozen metal medical instruments, rolls of gauze, and close to one-hundred elixir bottles.

Sol states, “Luiz is one of the very best physicians on the planet and you won’t find better equipment than what you see right here. Alsoomse is also a very skilled nurse, experienced with healing magics from several cultures. No matter how serious any injuries that members of our team might sustain, if we can successfully get the wounded back to this room alive, then I would conjecture there is a 99.99% percent probability that our medical staff will be able to save them. That is also why we his office is here in this corner room with the wide windows, as he prefers direct sunlight to operate by than artificial."

George, always interested in light and lighting then asks "If the good doctor prefers natural light so much, why have north facing windows? Surely a southern exposure would provide more direct light all day." Sol says, "We thought of that, but needed the southern section of the building for another purpose. This works as we also have special reflectors that can attach to the porch railings to reflect light inwards as necessary." George says, "I would be most interested in seeing those after the main tour Sol." says George muttering about wavelengths and refractive indices.
Ruby says, "Injuries? Have their been a lot of injuries?" Sol replies, "There may be in the future, better to be safe than sorry" Sol resets the medical tables back to their file cabinet form and they exit the room.

Continuing the tour, the next room is the President and Vice President’s Office. It is also ten-by-twenty feet with windows on the east wall and a vented chimney in the southwest corner. The room has a plush red carpet is furnished with two large desks each with nice leather chairs. Three other leather chairs are also within the room. Mounted on the wall to the left of the is a metal shield that has fancy navy blue and red heraldry with a white sword painted in the middle. Painted around the edge are the Latin words “Magnus Imperium Maximus Officium”

Several paintings line the south wall, the most prominent being a four-by-seven foot painting in an elaborate gold leaf frame. The painting is of seven well-dressed men standing beneath a banner that reads “Massachusetts Abolitionist Society”. The clothing styles of the men indicate that it was painted some time in the mid-to-late 1850’s. The man in the center is a younger James A. Parker.

Abigail recognizes two of the others as the authors John Greenleaf Whittier and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ruby and George both recognize a man in the painting as somebody who they met during earlier this summer. He is a young Frederick Seagram, the father of Ruby’s best friend Katherine Seagram Kale. Thomas, Lawrence and Roy are personally acquainted with all seven men in the portrait, the other three being John Albian Andrew who was the Governor of Massachusetts during the Civil War and the five-years that proceeded it; William Phillips, a prominent Boston attorney; and William Lloyd Garrison, also from James’s home town of Newburyport, who published an anti-slavery newspaper called The Liberator.

Thomas took in the sights of the house and facilities, amazed by the solid craftsmanship and detail obvious in their construction, impressed at the rapidity with which the structures had been built on the grounds. And once again, he thought to himself, Parker is one of the most resourceful and capable men he's ever had the pleasure to meet, and to work so closely with. Thomas only hoped that he'd be able to make contribution to the efforts to come that would be truly worthy of the trust and respect Parker gave him. Stirring from his reverie, he followed the others on their tour through the house.

Continuing south, Sol opens and leads the group through the lobby doorway between the two fireplaces on the south wall. This leads to a north-to-south hallway eight-feet-wide and twenty-five-feet long with three doors along the east wall to the left, one door in the center of the west wall to the right and a pair of double doors at the end to the south.

The first door to the left has a plaque similar to the previous two offices, this one reading:
AGELESS Corporation Secretary
Alsoomse da Rosa

Sol opens the door to another ten-by-twenty foot room with a large window on the east wall. The room has a simple desk, just one chair, and various mats and pillows on the floor. The south wall is lined with filled bookcases. The north wall has several dozen shelves containing various Native American items. The room smells of incense. The chimney in the northwest corner of the room doesn’t have heating grates but instead is open, with a small fireplace built into it. On a shelf near the fireplace are cast iron pots and pans.

Abby took a deep breath of the incense as they entered the room. With a faraway look she said only, "This room smells of home." The particular scent wasn't familiar, nor were the items, but the feeling of the room... Suddenly she was a tiny girl again, in her nanny's rooms where there were all sorts of items that seemed spooky to a child. Exotic scents floated to her nose and the glitter of magic, things her mother and father couldn't see, floated with them. Beautiful Suzanne's rooms; she with the skin the color of creamed coffee, the lilting voice and comforting arms. She missed her father who had passed on, loved her mother, but only for Suzanne was she homesick.

There is a painting on the wall between the chimney and door. It is a portrait of three people with a seascape behind them. One is Alsoomse when she was the human equivalent of late teens or early twenties. Next to her is an olive-skinned human male with curly dark hair who is dressed as a fisherman. They are holding together between them a half-elvan toddler-aged girl who bears a resemblance to them both.

Ruby exclaims, "Awww, Sol, is that Alsoomse's daughter? She is so cute! Is her daughter here too?" Sol replies, "No, Natalia lives at her home up in Massachusetts, on the island of Martha's Vineyard. That's where this portrait was painted, around one-hundred-and-forty years ago. The only relative of Alsoome's who is currently in Florida is her Grandson."

Continuing the tour, they return to the hallway and approach the final door on the left from the hallway has a sign that reads:
AGELESS Corporation Treasurer
Solomon Star

Sol says, “This is my office, come on it.” The room is the same ten-by-twenty foot size as the previous three, again with a window on the east wall. It has very little open space to walk, with two desks, three chairs and four tables, each piled with various papers, charts and books. The walls have several framed newspaper stories, most about the ‘Bullock & Star Retail Stores’. The room has a doorway on the south wall near the east-facing window.

Sol points to the door and says, “That will be your office Attorney Hardin, as we will probably be working closely together.” The door to that office is opened to reveal a ten-by-fifteen foot room, with longer section parallel the east wall with two windows. The room is currently furnished with a desk, two chairs and two wooden filing cabinets. There is a door on the opposite wall. Fish peeks in to see if there's a spittoon installed therein for the Texan. Ruby inquires, "Mr. Hardin, what is your role in our party, if I might ask?" “Attorney,” is his response.

Returning again to the main hallway he brings them to the final door on the left. It has a plaque reading:
AGELESS Corporation
Photographic Laboratory

Solomon opens the door to reveal a windowless interior room that is also ten-by-fifteen feet in size. The only other door is to the south wall. It has various shelves, cabinets and sinks. Benjamin thinks to himself, "I bet there's some silver in there!"

George Eastman is impressed by seeing that the room is stocked with all of the latest equipment for the development of film, many being from his own company but also a few things made by his competitors, some items of which he had heard of but had not actually seen until this very moment. Sol references to the chimney in the southwest corner and says, “That grate has special vents to allow you to regulate the level of light or heat to radiate from it so that you can keep this room as hot, cold or dark as you need it to be.” Very nice Mr. Star" says George admiring the space.

Ruby rolled her eyes just a little. "Oh no, I've lost him. George that is, he'll always be in here!" Then she smiled. "Hopefully he'll have something great to photograph. Looks like you've got all the best stuff here for him to work with though." George smiles at Ruby "Well Constance, this is why James brought me down here. But I promise to not live here. Or better yet , you can assist me in the lab here" says George with a smile. The look on Ruby's face could peel paint off the walls. And George had to laugh "No, of course not." laughed George. "But I will make time for us my dear, have no worries."

Lawrence says, "I take it by your wife's comments that you're in the photography business? I've seen Mr. Brady's fine work documenting the War of Rebellion." George looks at Lawrence "I......dabble a bit in photography, yes Mr. Cantrell." says George with a wry smile. "And Mr. Brady was a pioneer in his work, an inspiration to the art of photography. It is a shame though that he has fallen on hard times." says George wistfully. Lawrence replies, "That is too bad. His pictures helped bring the war to the general public. Someone should do something for him."

Sol heads away from the double-doors on the end and towards the center door on the western wall. He opens it and leads them into a good-sized kitchen, fifteen-foot-square. Two large ice chests are to the left of the door on the south wall. Wood stoves line the east wall of the room, vented to both of the chimney sides. The chimney also has open doors on both sides into this room revealing bread ovens. The west wall is lined mostly with cabinets. In the center of the room is a table with a butcher-block top. A sink with a hand pump is in the southwest corner. A dumbwaiter is also on the west wall.

Sol says, “We have an arrangement with the Delroy-Kingsley family where they cook and share one meal a day with us. During the summer that was always the noon meal, as the student archeology teams therefore didn’t have to stop at mid-day to prepare anything. Ever since the students left we’ve varied which meal it is. Today they’ll be joining us for our evening meal. They always cook extra, which goes into the iceboxes, so there is usually something that can be heated up for the other meals. Of course, if any of you actually wish to cook that would also be appreciated.”

"I can cook!" offers Fish cheerfully. "I did so often enough, preparing meals for the big top gang." He shakes out his shoulders and rolls his head. "Mr. Solomon, is there a high ropes course or some-such here on the grounds? I need to stretch a bit. There's no rush. I'm just curious." Sol smiles and says, "No, nothing of that sort, although we have plenty of land if you wish to build it. We actually own around three square miles of land here." Fish grins, "Nah, that won't be necessary -- if y'all don't mind my using the second-floor porch railings as balance beams, the peak of the roof as a catwalk, and the south trellis as rigging!"

Sol points to the north wall door and says that goes back into the lobby. He opens the door on the west wall, to the side hallway, which is ten feet across to the porch door and a five foot wide corridor going north for fifteen feet to the lobby door, with the two water closet doors on the left of this corridor.

They exit the kitchen from the southern door and enter the main dining room, which is twenty-foot-square. It has three round tables with white-and-red tablecloths on each. The tables each have seven chairs around them with place settings at all twenty-one chairs. A lazy-Susan with various spices and condiments is in the center of each table. An unlit chandelier is in the center of the room. The east wall has large picture windows, the drapes being drawn to show the porch and let in light. China cabinets are along the south wall.

"This is nice," Ruby comments. "Who does the shopping?" Sol replies, "Until today, primarily me. I've work retail stores most of my life so know prices and merchandise. I get the basics from the Mill Cove store on the daily mail runs. Around once a week I also make a trip into the city, and would welcome assistance with that run. Going to the city for shopping is actually a rather leisurely activity when you use the larger sailboat to travel there and back."

She states, "Oh, I love shopping, any kind. I can help you out with that. And I would love to see the city - Jacksonville is it?" Sol says, "Yes, the city your train arrived at. It currently has a population of 14,500, which means that there are plenty of stores." "Excellent!", she answers.

They exit the dining room in a door on the west wall near the fireplace in the southwest corner. This leads to a small ten-by-seven foot hallway that is immediately south of the first central hallway, with the double doors to that other hallway on the north wall. This hall also has a water closet. There is a door to the right which Sol says leads down to the basement, where they will light the fires for all of the chimneys during the winter months. He adds, "And by next summer we hope to also have installed a cooling mechanism that will circulate cold air using the same chimney and ventilation system.”

A pair of large double doors are on the south wall of this hallway. These doors have more than one lock on them. The left door of these double doors has a plaque reading:
AGELESS Corporation
Transportation and Logistics Office

Fish discreetly sizes up the locks -- through sheer force of habit! Ruby also stares at the locks curiously to determine how complicated would they be to get open. As someone who once tried to break out of the inside of a bank vault, this wasn't too complicated, though she wouldn't doubt magic was involved. She asks, "What's in the transportation office so valuable that needs multiple locks?"

Sol unlocks the doors and leads the group through. Inside is a vast windowless room, running twenty feet north-to-south and the full fifty-foot east-to-west width of the building. In the center of the south wall is a staircase running up to a doorway to the second floor. Both southern fireplaces are half within this room on the northern wall. Doors along the northern wall east of the fireplaces lead to the photography lab and Attorney’s Office. A set of thick double-doors that open into the room are along the back southern wall near the southeast corner. It is currently bolted shut and blocked with an iron bar. Fish sizes up those doors too, for good measure.

The room has a single-story for the eastern thirty feet, but in the western twenty-foot-square section there is an eighteen foot high ceiling comprising the first and second floors. On the north wall next to the chimney at the beginning of this section is a ladder mounted to the wall that leads up to a catwalk balcony on the northwestern corner of the room. The single-story section of the room has several large filing cabinets.. Signs above each pair of cabinets read “The Frolic”, The Heidi”, “The Isabella”, and “The Magnificence.” Those who have known James Parker for decades recognize the latter as the name of his own three-masted sailing ship. Two desks and five chairs also fill that section of the room.

Lawrence asks, "Are those ship logs, Sol? I recognize The Magnificence. It looks like James has been quite busy." Sol replies, "The cabinets will hold the logs. The company is new so, we're on our initial voyages right now. The Parker family is renting The Magnificence to the AGELESS Corporation for the indefinite future. She's an old ship but has been well maintained and is very swift on the high seas." Lawrence states, "I know that ship well. Old Boss Tweed thought he could get away from us. But the old girl got us to Spain in record time. Let's hope these other ships serve as well."

The most impressive item in the room is a huge fourteen-by-eighteen-foot table in the center of the two-story part of the room and up against the eastern wall, with just a few feet of walking space around both sides to the north and south of the table. The table itself has painted upon its entire top a detailed map of the Atlantic Ocean, showing the Atlantic coasts of North America, South America, Africa and Europe. Eight red two-inch diameter stars mark the map. There is a brass plaque next to each star naming its location.

North America has stars marked upon “Newburyport, Massachusetts”, “New York, New York” and “Jacksonville, Florida”. South America has a single star marked on “Rio de Janeiro, Brazil”. Africa has a pair of stars, one towards Africa’s southwest coast marked “Luanda, Portuguese West Africa/Angola” and another on the northwest coast marked “Bissau, Portuguese Guinea”. Europe has a single star marking “Lisbon, Portugal”. The remaining star is at an island chain several hundred miles west of Europe and marked “Ponta Delgada, Azore Islands”.

Also on the map are four model ships cast in metal, each four inches long and each with a wooden toothpick sticking up and flying a full-colored one-by-two-thirds inch cloth flag . A three-masted sailing ship model with a United States flag is at the Newburyport location. The other three models are all two-masted paddlewheel freighters. One has a United States flag and is currently southeast of Cuba and pointed towards Jacksonville. Another has a Peruvian flag and is sailing across the south Atlantic between Bissau and Rio de Janeiro. The other has the flag of Switzerland and is at the Lisbon location.

A rack with several long pointer sticks is mounted along the north wall, apparently used to move the ship models across the board. Ruby stepped into the room and curiously approached the table. She ran her hand across the painted on map as she gazed upon it. "Oh, the world is big," she said in awe. Her eyes flitted from area to area, her imagination running wild in her head. "This is a beautiful map. Does it have something to do with our little adventure?" She couldn't quite contain her excitement at the possibility of going somewhere more exotic than Florida.

Sol replies, "It does indeed. This map illustrates the commercial side of the business, which will fund the academic exploration side. You see here the eight ports of the AGELESS corporation and the tracking of our vessels when in port or at sea. The manager at each shipping location is responsible for lining up commercial shipments, with the focus on agricultural products of the indigenous populations, dealing directly with the people at the lowest level whereever possible. For example, once this Jacksonville location is fully established we hope to purchase citrus and rice directly from the underprivileged humans and ogres who grow them rather than rich intermediaries and plantation owners. We also plan to purchase alligator-skin products from the Siminole elves further south."

Ruby paused only briefly, the word business immediately bored her. She says, "Oh that's right, Nana mentioned that briefly. Smart to set up business to fund the fun stuff." Abigail nodded, listening with interest. "Sound plan. Not only does it make sure that the right people are getting paid for their labor, it also lowers the corporation's costs by cutting out the middleman . This map and set-up is amazing, but it does seem a bit... over the top for just tracking business. I'd guess it's also used to keep track of the more adventurous side of this corporation." Sol replies, "James will explain the details of the adventuring side of the business tomorrow and some of this will make more sense then. But think of it this way, we have now established a legitimate means to explain any travel being done by any of you between these four continents."
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Silver Moon

Chapter Eleven, “The Upper Floors” September 1st, 1882, 4:30 P.M.

Outside, Nanuet follows Alsoomse’s lead and brings the next pair of horses right behind Alsoomse. "So you had a human husband? I too spent time with a human lover although we've parted ways since. It's difficult, the whole aging thing. I never got past it I guess."

She replies, "I was fortunate, as my husband descended from a long line of Portuguese wizards and druids, who had access to a rare life enhancing magic. As a result my human husband lived to the age of one-hundred-seventy-two. My daughter, grandson and great-grandson have also used the same form of magic. My great-granddaughter has refused but she still inherits some of the benefit from her father. So my relatives of part-human blood will still be long lived compared to most."

She pauses and then says, "Do not tell the others, but James plans to offer the same magic to all of you here who are of full or part human blood. It would not work for either you or Roy, so for the two of you he will offer the option of using the magic on somebody of your choice at a time in the future. Perhaps your human lover could be the one that you select?"

Nanuet replies, "That is a generous offer, but not a decision I can make for her. It has been quite some time since I have last seen her and last I knew she has gone to California seeking her place in this world. I can't say I fully agree of the use of magic to extend one's life, mostly because I am ignorant about it. I can see how it would be tempting though, especially when it concerns one that you love dearly."

Meanwhile, Alsoomse and Nanuet guide the carriage into the barn and unhitch the horse. Alsoomse then faces the carriage and casts a spell. Naneut sees what looks like thin waves of light radiate out from her fingertips and through the air, surrounding the carriage. There is a creaking sound and the body of the coach then appears to sink an inch or two lower to the ground and thin puffs of dust quickly push out from the wheels and then dissipate.

He asks, "What exactly what that Alsoomse? Arcane magics?" She says, "Yes, I am versed in both arcane and earth magics. What I was doing just now was deactivating magical devices on each of the coach wheels. The sandy soil of this region makes vehicle travel harder, so pulling this large coach with all of the passengers and luggage would have been a burden on the animals as well as taking twice as long for the trip. These arcane items reduced the overall weight of the coach and contents by seventy-five percent." He replies, "Impressive, your knowledge in both arcane and earth magics" Nanuet says while he continues his work on the horses. "I have been learning divine magic but only have begun relatively recently."

She has him help her with the six horses, first grooming them and then bringing each to a stall where food and water await. She says that the students gave each a Timucua name, which she then used a Speak with Animal spell to explain to each horse. She says, "The gelding that is the lead horse is named Yobo, which means 'stone' as it is the cornerstone of the team. It's mare counterpart at the front is Becha which means 'tomorrow', as she is always trying to get ahead of where she should be. The middle two horses are a stallion and mare who are a mated pair, named Biro and Nia which are the Timucuan words for 'man' and 'woman'. The final mare is named Ela, which means 'sun' as she enjoys running around in the sunlight. The last is a gelding that is named Ocho which means 'behind' as it is always the straggler of the group."

Nanuet listens to Alsoomse explain the names of each of the horses and then uses each of the animals names as he tends to them. "Magnificent animals, and well cared for. Is this usually something you do or has this become your task since the students departed?" She says, "I have always loved horses, tending them is not a task it is a pleasure. We have riding horses here as well." Once the six horses are attended to, Alsoomse has Nanuet help her with a bale of hay, which they then bring outside corral with four other horses. They all hurry over and begin to eat.

She tells him “The silver quarterhorse is mine, she is named Sooleawa which translates as ‘Silver’ in my native Algonquin tongue. She is not comfortable with any rider except for myself. The dark brown thoroughbred is Mina’s horse, James had her brought here a month ago and he has been riding her around since, giving her time to get used to the trails and climate. I originally found her out not far from near where you are from, in the Arizona Territory. He had originally been raised by the Navajo and is named Nizhoni which is the Navajo word for ‘beautiful’. Mini only rides her occasionally, so doesn’t mind others using her as well.

The other two horses were purchased here in Florida for the students to ride and will be available for any of you to use.” She points to a brown and white one saying, “The painted stallion was rather spirited at first but we’ve had a number of long conversations and he now knows my expectations and rises to meet them. I have named him Ahote, which means ‘Restless One’ in the language of the Hopi centaur tribes. The appaloosa mare is named Peta, which in the language of the Blackfoot tribe means ‘Golden Eagle’.

He says, "You'll have to teach me your ways of communicating with the animals. I have a bond with Maska but have little experience with other animals, though I would certainly like to learn. It seems you also have a lot of experience dealing with other tribes, that too is something I would like to become involved with.” She says, "Learning the history and culture of the elvan people has been my lifelong project. I attended the Great Conclave of the elvan people with the Algonquin in both 1759 and 1835."

He states, “There is little of my tribe left so I feel I may be in a good spot to work as an ambassador of sorts amongst the various tribes remaining. I saw a structure that looked like it was Elven in nature on the way to the house is that yours or are there other elves living on the grounds?" She states, "That was my home here for the past summer, the students lived outside in canvas tents and I wanted to be near them. But they are gone now and I plan to move into the fine house that Luiz, James and Sol have constructed. You are welcome to live in it if you would like." "That is very kind of you and at least for now I think I will take you up on your offer."

Back in the Transportation and Logistics room Ruby says, "Hey, are we getting to see our rooms soon?" Sol states “Yes, we have now seen all of the first floor." He gestures towards the stairs and says "This is one of the other main staircases up to the second floor. From the second floor up until the roof the staircases are all along the central hallway. The four bedrooms on the second floor have been designated for corporate officers and our attorney. The remainder of you will reside in bedrooms on the two upper floors.

Each bedroom is spacious, varying from 350 to 450 square feet in size, although the angled roof on the two upper floors gives them the illusion of being smaller. Each pair of bedrooms has a shared bathroom with a sink, water closet and bathtub. There is also an adjoining door between each pair of rooms, so please give some thought as to which person you wish to be roomed beside.

All rooms are currently furnished with a bed, wardrobe closet, dresser, corner table and chair. The furniture is new and unfinished, so we can paint or stain them to your specific desires. We can also order any additional furniture that you may want.” Ruby exclaims, "Bathtubs! I love it! And really? Anyway we want to decorate it and furnish it? That's... fabulous. I feel spoiled already. It sure seems like you plan on us staying here a while. Is there a um, room for George?" "There is a room for each of you," Sol replies. Hearing Ruby speak of bathing, Fish continues to keep his sordid thoughts to himself.

Abigail says, "As I'm the only unattached lady, I guess I'll have to trust one of you gentlemen to be in the next room. Just remember whoever you are, sharing a bathroom with a woman might make you wish you'd chosen a different room," she laughed. Sol replies, "Actually no Abigail, there is one other unattached lady. Alsoomse hasn't chosen a room yet, having been living outside in her elvan lodge. With all of the items that she's collected she has already outgrown both it and her office so has been thinking of taking an upper room as well. She could room opposite the room of your choosing."

They climb up the stairs to the second floor as Sol unlocked the door at the top and opens it. They enter a room that is thirty feet on the south wall, twenty-feet north to south on the west wall, ten feet on the north and the remaining wall running diagonally from southeast chimney to the southeast corner. The room is a scientific laboratory, with a door on the north between the chimneys. It has the latest equipment used by the top Universities. One shelf has what look to be wooden and metal Timucuan artifacts. Bookcases in the room have books focused on both General Science as well as the specific subjects of Anthropology and Archeology.

Trout saunters over to the shelf, and surveys the items. He thinks to himself, "What's this little gimcrack I'm holding for Lady Wilamina really worth?" He concludes that the items here appear to be of the standard clay pottery and stone arrow tips commonly associated with ancient Native American elvan villages, while the other items he's seen are heavier stone objects with runes carved into them.

Sol leads them through the door between the two southern chimneys and into a second floor hallway, seven feet wide and running the full thirty-five feet to the other pair of chimneys where it then branches off to both the east and west to form a ‘T’ shape. Towards the opposite end of the hallway is a staircase up is along the east wall. The hallway also has a water closet.

He points to a door on the east wall near the chimney and says, “This will be your room Attorney Hardin. My room is the next one. We will be sharing a bathroom in between.” He does not open the door, instead leading the group further down the second floor hallway. The eastern end of ‘T’ top is a five-by-eight foot alcove with the base of the staircase up on the south side and doors on the east and north sides. Sol says that the eastern door is to the Parker’s room and the northern door is to Doctor Chernotz’s room. The western is a five-by-eight-foot alcove ending in a door.

Ruby noted where Nana's room was located, hoping to stay somewhat close to her when it came time to choose rooms. As they continued to walk Ruby commented to George, "Since they gave you your own room we'll have to make sure it's across from mine. You never know when there might be a midnight emergency," she laughed. "Or moving furniture around, I'm already getting ideas for decorating."

Sol opens the door to an eight-by-fifteen foot hallway with a window on the east wall and doors both north and south of the window. Sol tells them that opposite the northern door is the staircase down to the lobby. Ruby asks, "Hey Sol, what kind of stuff is there to do at night around here?"

"Reading," he states as he opens the south door up to a large room, twenty-by-twenty-seven feet in size. It is elaborately-furnished room with floor to ceiling bookcases along all of the walls except for the three windows on the west wall and one section of the south wall that has a filled liquor cabinet. Half of the bookcases are filled, and there are several stepstools to assist in getting to books on higher shelves. A dumbwaiter down to the kitchen is along the center of the northern wall. The other three corners of the room each have a plush chair. In the center of the room is a long rectangular cherry wood table. The table has fourteen chairs, two on each end and five on each longer side.

"Reading?" Ruby laughed before seeing the serious look on Sol's face. "Reading? Really? Well... I am sure THAT will be exciting." She kept the rest of those thoughts to herself.

Sol states, “This is the library and main conference room. We will be meeting here tomorrow after lunch to discuss all of the details of this project, including salaries and benefits, and determine then if you either wish to actually join our Guild or if you would prefer to remain as an occasional consultant and guest.” Lawrence rubs his hands together and says, "Excellent. Then we can get down to brass tacks." “Free food is always good, my man," Fish quips, "but count me in: no discussion is necessary!" He shifts his weight from one foot to the other excitedly.

They return to the central hallway and now take the stairs up to the third floor. It reaches a landing in the center, with the staircase then continuing to the fourth floor. Sol says that the only rooms on this floor are the six bedrooms.
Immediately east of the landing are two doors, which Sol opens. Each is a large bedroom, with a wall between the two doors running to the eastern side of the building. There is a large dormer window fifteen feet wide with a flat roof, the rest of the room with the upward slanted roof. The side walls of each room run diagonal from the chimney to ten feet before the corner where the bathroom doors are located. Each diagonal wall also has a door to another room.

This view from the southeastern room shows a distant Bay a few miles which Sol says is where James and Mina were riding their bicycles to. The view from the northeastern room looks out upon the eastern shore of the Saint John’s river leading to the peninsula and Bay. "Oh!" Ruby headed to the window, opening it wide and leaning out, straining to see if she spots her grandmother and her husband riding their bikes. "This is a beautiful view, you can see a lot from here." Sol replies "And even more from the rooms on the fourth floor."

They head out into the central hallways, which also has a hall water closet, and head to the southern door between the two south chimneys. He opens the door which reveals walls running diagonally from each chimney to the southwest corner of the building and most of the way to the southeast corner, the room thereby occupying nearly all of the south wall. From the large dormer and picture window is a spectacular view of the distant countryside as well as the horse corral beside the barn.

There are two doors on the southeastern wall, one of which is opens to the southeastern room that they had just viewed and the other to the ten-foot-square bathroom in the southeastern corner of the building that is shared by these two rooms. Ruby asks, "These are very nice, you were right. The bathrooms alone are worth a room here! Do you expect that we, or the people who join the corporation, will be here long periods of time?"

Sol says, "That's somewhat up to you. I believe that James was talking about the Exploring side of the business taking on projects that are a few weeks in duration then taking a month or so off between assignments. Not everybody would be needed for every assignment also, it would depend what the specific project and what skills were needed. Ruby replies, "I suppose we'll have to wait until tomorrow and what our jobs will be to figure that out. I don't think George can be away from work too long. And eventually we'll be getting married," she grinned.

They exit this room and go to the opposite end to a room between the two northern chimneys. This room is identical in size to the one they just saw on the southern wall, with this one sharing the corner bathroom with the northeastern room. This room has an excellent view of the river, front yard and dock with the three boats.

Sol says, "Let's look at the last two bedrooms on this floor." There are two doors on the hallway western wall, each near the northwest or southwest chimney. Sol unlocks the northwestern door, opening into the northwest bedroom. It is similar in size to the one opposite on the northwest except for the bathroom is not in the corner but rather on the central wall between this room and the southwest room. The western view from here is of the road they arrived on, with Mill Cove in the distance.

Sol leads them to this room’s bathroom, which extends out from the wall opposite the central hallway, with the adjoining door between the two rooms further west along the slanted roof. They enter room which is eight-by-twelve feet in size. Sol says, “Each of the shared bathrooms is approximately one-hundred square feet in size, but this is the only one with a mostly flat instead of slanted ceiling due to the roof. James was thinking that you therefore might prefer one of these two rooms Thomas due to your height. He also had the largest tub installed here with you in mind.”

The tub is porcelain with iron footings. There is a drain plug in the bottom. At one end of the tub mounted on a box-like platform is a hand pump. Sol says, “All of the bathrooms have pumps identical to this. A person not knowing the special tricks of these pumps would have to hand pump cold water one gallon at a time. However, let me show you the trick.”

He reaches down towards the pump mountings, which have four bolts on each side. He says, “First you need to lift the hand pump into the up position.” He raises the pump, leaving it up. He they says, “The control mechanism is built into the four bolts on the northern side. Once the pump is up just place your fingers over the front two bolts.” He demonstrates, as while his hand covers those bolts water pours from the pump on its own. When he lifts his hand the water stops. He says, “That’s the cold water.”

He then places his hand over the middle two bolts and the water resumes again, Sol saying, “This is an even mix of hot and cold water.” He then moves his hands to only cover the back two bolts and the water pouring out now has steam coming from it. Sol states, “And this is the hot water.”

They exit the door on the opposite side of the bathroom into the remaining room on the southwest side. The view from the window here also shows the distant Mill Cove, as well as a closer view of the barn and horse corral. He leads them out the door to the hallway and to the staircase up. Thomas opts to remain behind and start to unpack in his chosen room.

The fourth floor consists of four bedrooms, each running from a corner of the building to the central hallway. The angled roof is closer in on this level and Thomas has to stoop a bit inside of the rooms to keep from bumping his head when away from the flat-roofed dormer sections, which on this level are ten-feet wide rather than fifteen. The northern and eastern rooms share a bathroom and the southern and western rooms share a bathroom. The view from the windows in each of these rooms is similar to that from the third floor, although from here you can see further in each direction.

Ruby says, “George and I will take two of the first connected bedrooms we saw downstairs, if that is alright with everyone.” John says, "I am fine with any of the accommodations...they are a far sight better than my last."
A wry smile follows. " Abigail says, “I think they're just trying to lull us into a false sense of security. The accommodations when we travel won't be nearly so nice. I'd like one of these rooms up on the third or forth floor overlooking the water. A little exercise never hurt anyone and I like to be up high."

Sol says, "Okay, that works. On the third floor Abigail can take the north room facing the river, Alsoomse can take the northeastern room, Ruby can take the southeastern room and George can take the southern room. That would leave either of the western facing rooms on that floor, with the bigger bathroom, for Thomas."

"I'd like a room on the fourth floor," says Fish, still grinning. "It'll give me easier access to the roof!" Sol states, "Speaking of which, let's go take a look." From the central hallway they climb up to the roof level. It is ten feet wide and thirty-five feet long with the chimneys in all four corners and an iron gate in between that has been painted brick red. Four telescopes, similar to those used on ships, that are mounted in the center of each of the four gates. Each is on a swivel base. In the very center of the roof is a much larger telescope, similar to those that astronomers used at observatories. It is pointed skyward, with a padded chair mounted beneath for a viewer to sit almost horizontally to the roof when looking up.

Ruby's mouth dropped open at the sight of the telescopes and stayed that way for quite some time. "Stars...," she said dreamily to herself, enthralled as she moves to one of the telescopes to inspect it, trying to see if she can figure it out. Sol replies, "Oh yeah, I guess there is another thing to do around here at night. James spends a lot of time up here looking at the stars. He said that both of his grandfathers taught him about the night skies. They were both seafarers. His paternal grandfather captained a great sailing ship in the 18th century. His maternal grandfather worked on a whaling ship captained by James's father." She exclaims, "Oh, I hope James will teach me too, I have always adored the stars! It's really wonderful up here, I'm going to be here a lot I think." She whispered to him and grinned, "If you ever can't find me, look here."

Lawrence says to Sol, "I'd like a room with plenty of natural light. Something on the southern side, if there's one left. These aging eyes prefer it to lamplight." Sol says, "Okay then, why don't you room adjacent to Thomas then, him in the northwest room and you in the southwest room. That'll fill the third floor, so you'll have your choice up on the fourth Roy, either east sharing a bathroom with Fish, or you could take north or west by yourself for the time being."
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Silver Moon

Chapter Twelve, “The Delroy-Kingsley Family” September 1st, 1882, 5:30 P.M.

Looking down towards the north they see Luiz returning to the house along with two of the three men, the human and the ogre, who had been busy painting the building down by the docks. Up on the roof, Sol suggests that they head downstairs for the others to meet the men who Luiz has brought up to the house. "Oh, who are they?" Ruby asks.

Sol replies, "The Delroy-Kingsley family. They've lived on this land since shortly after the war but didn't own it. When we bought the place they assumed that we'd kick them off, but James told them they were welcome to stay. They were a big help with the construction of this house and the outbuildings so James decided to build them a new house at the same time. Jemima is also the best cook you'll find around these parts, they provide us with one big meal a day." She replies, "Excellent! Let's go meet them."

Fish intends to be the first in the party on the ground to meet the groundskeepers. He takes a running leap off the telescope perch, tucks and tumbles to grab hold of the third-floor ledge, tucks and leaps to the second floor porch railing, runs along its top edge to the side of the house facing their approach, then slides down a rainspout to land nimbly upon the ground. You'd have to have been looking closely to see him just catch his balance as he plants his feet. He throws up his arm triumphantly, "Ta da!"

Thomas, unpacking his carpetbag in his room, hears a "thump" followed by another "thump", sees a blur in the corner of his eye that may or may not have been Fish run past his window, followed by silence, and a rather loud "TA-DA!" from below. He looks up, an eyebrow raised quizzically, ponders for a second, smiles and shakes his head, and continues to unpack his things.

As Fish jumped Abby rushed to the edge of the perch to watch him nimbly tumble to the ground. From far above her can hear her applaud him and she calls down, "I'd have cracked my head open trying something like that, but it sure gets you to the ground fast!" She turned to the others still on the perch and grinned, "Who wants to bet her first learned that to sneak into places she ought not to be?"

"Indeed, Ms. Abby...I think I will rely on the stairs for my transportation down."Hardin looks down at Fish and shakes his head. "What would your mother think if she saw you do that?" Ruby laughed as Ben did his stunt off the roof, amazed at either his bravery or foolishness. Ruby took George's hand as they walked downstairs.

Seeing Mr. Trout’s landing Nanuet says to his elvan companion, "Ahh, I think we're wanted back in the house." Nanuet offers his arm to Alsoomse. "Shall we?"

Luiz introduces the human in his mid-forties as Jasper Delroy. While from a distance the other man had appeared to be an ogre in his twenties but up close he appears to also have some human blood as well, although the ogre side is clearly the more dominant aspect of his heritage. Luiz introduces him as Obadiah Kingsley, “You can call me Obie”, is says in a low gutteral voice. Luiz says, “The rest of Jasper’s family will be along in around a half-hour with supper for us all. In the meanwhile, these two have come to help carry your luggage upstairs to your rooms.”

James and Wilamina return, riding their bicyles along the stone path. Wilamina calls over to Fish, "Most impressive Benjamin, I was not aware that our ride back was also going to include entertainment." They store the bicycles in the storage building and head up to the house. Luiz says, “Dinner will be in less than an hour if you wish to freshen up first.” James says, “I don’t see any carriages so I gather that our guests haven’t arrived.” Luiz says, “Well, you did tell Sheriff Holtzburn that it was at 6:00 P.M. From what I’ve seen is always exactly on time.” Sol interjects, “Yes, but I’ve also heard that his wife Gerta is habitually early. So they could arrive at any time now.”

"Lady Wilamina?" asks Fish quietly, stepping alongside her as they head up the front steps to the porch, "I have two questions: may I leave your package in my room?" he asks, patting his duffle, and then adds somewhat sheepishly, "and what if a fella has no duds appropriate to a formal dinner?" She tells him, "You can put it in my room or yours and tonight's dinner is informal. As for the ball Monday, we can purchase you something in Jacksonville that day."

Once she was downstairs Ruby bounced over to her grandmother. "Nana, I picked out a room kinda near yours, one floor up. They're pretty big rooms and I can't wait to decorate it. How was your bike ride?" Mina replies, "It was wonderful, after all of the sitting on trains and coaches it was nice to get some exercise for a change. It was nice to have some alone time too. James says that the students have set out these stone bicycle paths throughout the entire estate, so there will lots of future opportunities for riding."

Ruby replies, "Well, I will certainly take advantage of that, I love to explore. How should we dress for dinner? Do I need an evening gown?" James laughs and says, "No, it will be informal. Save the gown for Monday night when we go into the city for the ball." Ruby clapped her hands together, "Oh I had forgotten about that already!”

"What's this about a ball? Shame I have nothing appropriate to wear." Nanuet says as he walks up the group, feigning disappointment. James replies, "The ball is being thrown by a fraternal order of Jacksonville's society and business leaders. The have been anxious to get msyelf and Doctor Chernoitz to join them. We can discuss it in more detail as we get closer to Monday."

"Ha Nanuet, think you would get out of the dance that easily? I am certain someone would have something for you to wear." Ruby leaned in closer and with a grin on her face whispered to Nanuet. "Besides, who will take that nice, pretty elven woman if you do not?" Nanuet's face turns crimson as Ruby whispers in his ear. His eyes look down before looking back at Alsoomse and then back at Ruby. "She uh... well I... I am sure... I mean I guess I can find something to wear if I have to. I bet there is a lot to do between now and then though, we shouldn't worry about that right now." "Who's worried?" Ruby laughed, and kissed her friend on the cheek. "It will be a fabulous time, I am certain."

Ruby says, Alright, I'm going to go freshen up for dinner now that our bags are upstairs.” As she walked to the stairs she stopped at Mr. Trout. "Your little acrobatics show was quite impressive Fish." She gave him a wink then headed up the stairs.

Three individuals head up the road from the house down by the river. One is a male half-ogre who is the human equivalent of early-to-mid-thirties. He is leading a mule that is pulling a small cart. Walking alongside the cart is a female half-ogre the human equivalent of around fifty. Beside her is the tall carmel-skinned statuesque beauty that they saw earlier when they arrived. Both women are wearing colorful floral-print sundresses. The man has on polished shoes, dark cotton pants, a white cotton shirt and a necktie.

When they arrive Luiz introduces the man as Enoch Kingsley, the older woman as Jemima Kingsley and the younger woman as Antoinette Delroy. The three of them remove several metal and ceramic containers with handles from the cart. "Nice to meet you all," Ruby commented, "We've heard so much about you...r cooking! I hope James wasn't exaggerating, I'm starving!"

The meal consists of the barbecue chicken, salad greens in an oil sauce, corn on the cob, honey-baked yams, and fresh wheat bread. "I'm going to grab a quick drink before dinner then." She headed to the bar.

Lawrence unpacks his suitcases into the dresser of his room. He absently whistles while he does so. Next he unlocks his satchel and places the contents on the desk. He checks through the various pens, inks and papers to make sure they survived the trip. Satisfied, he repacks the case and locks it. He dresses for dinner in a suit a couple years out of style before heading downstairs for supper.

Hardin quickly and efficiently unpacks his larger bag, taking out the crisp new suit he purchased in Tallahassee before getting on the train. He turns the suitcoat inside out and then opens the smaller valise and pulls out some soft calfskin, a small pair of shears, several large sewing needles and some sturdy thread. With practiced ease, he sets to work.

Five minutes prior to the start of dinner, he stands before the mirror in his room, new coat on and stares intently at his own reflection. His knees flex slightly and his hands blur. A split second later, both Colts are aimed at an imaginary foe's midsection. Hardin grins and holsters the brace in their newly-sewn homes. The left hammer catches a bit and he frowns."Guess that one will have to wait until after dinner..." He picks up the new matching bowler-style derby and places it with a jaunty angle before heading out the door.
Fish slides into his room and tucks the duffle under his bed, after pulling out the ascot (a gift from Lydia, his paramour from the circus). He takes a moment to rig a simple "trap" along the duffle's fastenings: if triggered, it will let him know that someone fussed with the bag.

He steps up to the washbowl on the bureau and splashes some water on his face, drags his fingers through his hair, and then inspects himself in the mirror as he ties on the ascot with a rakish flair. He frowns, to look at his road clothes: a little threadbare and far from nifty clean. Then he shrugs, thinking to himself, "I am who I am!" He gives himself a wink, fills his flask with the remainder of the fine bourbon he shared with Roy while in the coach, and heads downstairs.

Thomas dresses for dinner: a charcoal-grey double-breasted linen suit, with a crimson red cravat. Folding his spectacles into his pocket, and tucking a white silk handkerchief into the left breast pocket, he goes downstairs to the dining room, effusively greeting all who are there. Despite his reserve, he can't help but be struck by the beauty and grace of the woman introduced to him as Antoinette Delroy. He takes her hand into his, and in an unusual (for Thomas) gesture, he kisses her hand, saying "I am most pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Delroy." "As I am to meet you Doctor Crane. James and Solomon have both spoken very highly of you," she states in a well articulated Southern accent.

Since no one was manning the bar, Ruby felt right at home slipping behind the counter and making her own drink. She pondered taking some more of Alsoomse's special tea but opted for lemonade instead. She poured one for George too and returned to the dining room.

It is almost 6:00 and the Sheriff and his wife still have not arrived. James announces that he and Mina will be sharing a table with their nearly tardy guests and asks that Solomon, John and Lawrence take the three remaining seats at that table. Of the Delroy-Kingsley family, Jasper, Jemima and Obadiah sit at one table and are joined by Alsoomse, leaving three more chairs there unoccupied. Antoinette and Enoch sit at the third table and are joined by Luiz, leaving four more chairs unoccupied. Thomas sits at the table with Antoinette, Enoch, and Luiz. Fish wants to sit next to Roy.

Ruby and George took a seat with the Delroy-Kingsley family, leaving the seat next to Alsoomse open. When Nanuet entered the dining room she waved to him. "Over here Nanuet!" Nanuet responds immediately to Ruby's voice and heads in that direction without thinking before he sees what she has planned. He pauses for a moment, shaking his head slightly before finishing the trip across the room and seating himself in the remaining empty seat next to Alsoomse. He listens carefully to the conversation taking place regarding the possible deputizations.

Hardin stops at the door momentarily, eyes sweeping the room and lingering on each person he doesn't know for a heartbeat or two. He is looking for a seat with a solid wall to his back. Once he spots one, he will angle toward it...pausing only to tip his hat toward the ladies. Once at the target chair, he pulls it out a bit, puts his bowler on the cushion, smoothes back his hair and returns to the mainstream for proper introductions...

Ruby turned back to her table mates. "This food smells fabulous, I can't wait to dig in! I've been wondering, where did you two ladies get your dresses? They look so pretty and so cool for this hot and humid weather." The older half-ogre Jemima replies "Why I made them for myself and Antoionette. The Mill Cove store has bolts of this material, I would be happy to make some for you as well. Ruby responds, "That would be so generous of you, thank you. I think stuffy hot corsets won't do down here, it's too warm, so a bit of new clothing would be in order. I think George should get some lighter weight suits too. So James mentioned you've lived here a while?"

Obadiah Kingsley says, "Yes, our Grandpa was a slave sold to the Kingsley Plantation. My mother and my Aunt Jemima were both born there." Alsoomse says, "The Kingsley Plantation is the oldest one in the county, established in 1814. It occupies all of Fort George Island just north of the mouth of the Saint James River. It has a fastinating racial history, as Zaphaniah Kingsley's wife Anna was an African ogress who he had purchased in Cuba and then fell in love with and married. They treated their slaves far better than most slave owners.

Problems arose in 1821 when Florida changed hands from Spanish rule to becoming part of the United States. Spain had no laws against human and ogre marriages but the United States did. So Zephaniah and Anna sold the Plantation to his nephew and moved to Haiti, where they established a new plantation. After he died in 1843 Anna and her daughters moved back here." Jemima says, "We were always well treated so when the slaves were freed we all took on the name Kingsley as our last name. I met Jasper there." As she says that she gently pats his cheek.

He smiles and says, "In the war I was wounded and discharged at First Mannassas, lost my right leg. Limped around with just a wooden one for nearly two decades until this summer when Luiz...Doctor Chernovz built me this newfangled semi-mechanical one. Bends just like a real one and also locks in place when I need it to. Those guys are something else." Jemima says, "Dear, you're rambling." He says, "Sorry, so I was overseer at the Plantation but got discharged for being too friendly with the workers." "Resulting in cousin Antoinette," Obadiah says. "You hush Boy," Jasper exclaims.

Slightly embarrassed, Jemima says, "Jasper and I were married in an African ceremony at the Kingsley Plantation in Haiti. That satisfies us but is not recognized by the United States, so we're not in violation of the law. That's why I still use the name Kingsley instead of Delroy." He adds, "After I lost my job at the Plantation we moved a few miles up river to here. Never thought that anybody would actually buy this place."

Ruby ate her food as she listened to the story. "Why is that? That you thought no one would buy this place?" He replies, "'Cause of the plague that killed them Indians who lived here. Bad omens and such." Ruby says, "Plague? I think James mentioned that but wasn't it a while ago?" Jasper says, "Sure, almost three hundred years ago. But ghosts are ghosts, they don't care how long it's been!"

Alsoomse says, "Yes, and if you'll stick around after dinner Jasper you'll hear my theories about how there wasn't a plague at all, so there are no ghosts." He replies to Alsoomse, "I've heard what you said before Mrs. de Rosa, and you're probably right. Don't matter none, it's not what actually happened but what people think happened that will form the opinions. As long as folks think this here hill is haunted they'll stay away." Ruby says, "I'm quite interested to hear all about your ghosts Alsoomse, I enjoy a good tale."

Having left her jacket upstairs in her new room, Abigail sat down to dinner in a plain white blouse and freshened up from the long day's travel. "Quite an ecclectic group of people the Parker's have assembled here," she said. "It must have been quite a summer for you with students all over and now us here. Are you looking forward to things settling down a bit?" she asked, looking toward the three who already lived on the land.” Enoch Kingsley replies, "The kids were fun to have around."

Antoinette says, "I don't mind them being gone, some of those boys were so immature. You'd have thought that they had never seen a woman before." Luiz interjects, "Well, the Bradford Academy is a college preparation school for boys, with the exception of a rather ancient staff nurse they have no female students or faculty." She says, "Yes, but three of them had their teenage sisters along, the boys left them alone." Luiz said, "They had to, they risked expulsion otherwise, those girl's fathers sit on the Academy's Board of Directors." Antoinette says, "As does Mr. Parker." Luiz replies, "True, also keep in mind that they were just girls whereas you are a woman, there was no comparison."

Thomas thinks to himself "Oh my word, yes, yes she is indeed." He only hoped that he'd be able to keep his composure seated at the same table with Abigail, who has always created a turmoil of feelings within him, and this new vision of beauty, Antoinette. Someday, he resolved, he'd have to get to the bottom of why women ... incredibly beautiful and intelligent women ... always discomfited him and gelded his normally robust powers of speech. Smiling to himself, Thomas began to realize that he wasn't missing his gardens back in Bermuda quite as much as he thought he might.

Abigail says, "I attended an all women's college, so in some ways I can sympathize with those boys. Generally it was good not to have the distraction of all the flirting that would have been inevitable, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say. Or in our cases, perhaps they should say forbidden fruit always tastes sweeter. My friends there and I got into more trouble than was good for us in town looking for a little companionship."

Luiz said, "That happened here too, two of the boys sneaked out of their tent one night and walked all the way to Mill Cove to meet up with a pair of girls they saw there. They ran into a pair of alligators instead and high tailed it back here as fast as their feet would carry them."

Laughing Abby said, "Can't say I ever had to run from an alligator. Wells is in Aurora, New York, on the shore of Cayuga Lake. It's a small village, but there were always plenty of boys from Ledyard to be found in town. One particulary brave one once challenged me to swim in the lake with him late at night. So there I was soaking wet in my drawers in that lake. It was late spring but that water was still cold. Lucky for me he was too cold to try anything after he climbed out of that water."

Visibly distracted, Fish stammers, "I've wrestled alligators! The Everglades show was always one of our most popular." He glances at Abigail across the table, "Of course, I'd raised Bessie and Lychee since they were about this big..." holding up his thumb and forefinger. "Even so, a well-fed gator can grow mighty thick!" Ben draws his open hands apart from one another, as though he's cradling an abdomen. Abby says, "I wouldn't think you could ever raise a truly tame alligator, they are what they are. It still must have been dangerous. Carnival life probably seems quite everyday to you, but I admit I'm rather fascinated."

Enoch says, "You're not likely to see many alligators, the population in and around Jacksonville has doubled in the last two years, so most of them gators have been hunted down. There's maybe just a couple hundred of them left in the swamps north of the river. Too much river traffic during the day so they stay in the swamps. But they will venture down from the swamps at night, usually after livestock from the farms. Those boys were after a farmer's daughters, well them alligators were after that same farmer's chickens." Turning to Enoch she said, "I'm glad there shouldn't be any alligators around here, although I do feel a bit bad for the poor things. They only do what comes naturally. Can't say I feel bad for those boys."
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Silver Moon

Chapter Thirteen, “James’s Troubles” September 1st, 1882, 6:00 P.M.

At exactly a minute until six a carriage pulls up to the front of the house. Sol answers the door and lets in the couple just as the clock reaches 6:00 P.M. The blond haired, blue eyed muscular clean-shaven man is in his late thirties, dressed entirely in black, with suitcoat, shirt, pants and tie and a black hat on his head. His boots have a lot of wear but have been recently polished. The only thing not black are the pair of silver Colt Peacemakers on his belt and the metal star pinned to the lapel of his suit coat.

The woman accompanying him looks to be around the same age, with tan hair and blue eyes. She has an hourglass figure which is partially concealed by the unflattering black-and-hunter green long wool/cotton blend dress that she is wearing. A matching green cotton shawn is draped over her shoulders beneath a large straw hat with a black ribbon. Sol announces them as Duval County Sheriff Rolf Heinrich Hotzbrun and his wife Gerta Hotzbrun. Sol leads him to their appointed seats.

Luiz asks everyone to stand and says a prayer to the Greek/Roman gods. He then welcomes others to state prayers of their own faiths. Alsoomse then says a prayer to the gods of nature. Wilamina then says a prayer to the Celtic deities. Obadiah Kingsley says a prayer to the Ogre deities. Sheriff Hotzbrun then states a prayer to the Norse dieties, with emphasis on Odin, Thor and Magni.

After the prayers, Lawrence introduces himself to the Hotzbruns. "Sheriff Hotzbrun, Mrs. Hotzbrun. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. I'm Lawrence Cantrell. James and I go way back." The Sheriff replies in a somewhat thick Germanic accent, "Yes, he has told me some of your background. That is one of the reasons that I am here tonight."

James interjects, “Yes Lawrence, you and John have seen the Conservancy signs, which say that per the Governor’s order trespassers are subject to immediate arrest and prosecution. Well, we're located so far out of town that it would not be feasible to have to go get the lawman if we needed them, tresspassers could loot all of the archeaology site by the time we returned with the Sheriff. So in order to make good on that threat both Sol and I have become Deputy Sheriffs for the County. Sheriff Hotzbrun and his wife are here tonight to meet the two of you and discuss the possibility of the both of you also becoming deputized.”

Hardin can't suppress a lopsided grin at the prospect of becoming a deputy sheriff. "Well, Mr. Parker, I have had extensive experience on several sides of the law and must admit the challenge of operating from the good sheriff's perspective is quite intriguing to me." He leans back in his seat for a moment and then straightens, turning towards Sheriff Hotzbrun. "So, Sheriff Hotzbrun, has there been or are you expecting much in the way of...trouble?"

As the table begins to pass around and dish out the food he replies, "No, and I want to keep it that way. Better to have people and not need them than need them and not have then. It's a big county, 774 square miles, one fifth of that water. The county's population is around 23,000 but 14,500 of them are in Jacksonville, which has its own police force. I try to have my deputies spread out in the event that they are needed.

I have four in the town of Baldwin, nine miles west of Jacksonville, I have another four at the coast with a pair each at the two coastal beaches, Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach. With four here midway between Jacksonville and the coast that should help keep things covered nicely, especially since you have a coach and several boats available at your disposal."

Lawrence says in surprise, "Me? I mean, I'm honored by the possibility, but I'm no gunfighter. I'm an artist." James interjects, "But you are also my friend and a resourceful man. That is what we may be in need of. One reason that I approached the Sheriff and Governor about protection is that I've run into a bit of trouble, unrelated to this project in Florida, but might follow us here." Hardin glances at James. "Anything...interesting?" His attitude is studied calm, but Lawrence notices a gleam in his eyes.

James says "Well, it started with a book I was working on earlier this year about the history of the Whig political party that was active from 1832 to 1856 and elected two presidents, Zachary Taylor and William Henry Harrison, both of whom died in office. Harrison's Vice President John Tyler was also a Whig but split with the party after assuming the Office of the Presidency.

The subject of this book came about quite accidentally over two years ago. I was attending an auction at the New York City Offices of Sotheby’s Auction House and took a slight interest in a crate full of correspondence from the estate sale of Percival Smoot, executive assistant to John Canfield Spencer. Spencer was a New York politician back in the 1830's and 40's, born in Hudson, New York. He served as an assemblyman and state senator up in Albany but didn't hit the national front until John Tyler fired his entire Whig Cabinet and sought replacements.

Spencer served two years as Secretary of War followed by two years as Secretary of the Treasury. He was the only northerner on Tyler's cabinet and resigned near the end of Tyler's term in protest to the annexation of Texas. In my travels to China I had actually been involved in the First Opium War between Great Britain and China, which ended in 1843. In fact, it was during the voyages related to that when I first became acquainted with Roy Huggins and his family.

But back to the story, I thought that with Spencer having been the United State's Secretary of War during those years there might be something of value about it in Smoot's Collection, possibly some correspondence to Spencer from Queen Victoria, so was willing to bid up to $ 100 for the crate, but thought it would go for much less.

Much to my surprise there was another bidder, a man from Virginia who was very interested. We got into a bidding war and my emotions came into play, with my final bid being $ 650. He outbid me at $ 700 at which point my common sense got the better of me and I dropped out. As the auctioneer pounded the gavel letting the other the other man know he won a wave of emotion crossed the man's face that appeared to be great relief. He then sat back down in his seat and appeared to fall asleep, although in actually, he died, probably of heart failure.

He had come alone to the auction and was not known by the Sotheby’s so since he hadn't paid yet the crate went to me as the second highest bidder. What followed was a two-year-long legal battle with the man's estate who wanted to take possession of it, the court holding it in the interim. I eventually won, getting the crate delivered to me in June. During the intervening two years I conducted further research on my auction rival, finding that he was a high official in the Whig Party, which prompted me to dig further. As I've collected all of this information I figure I might as well put my efforts to work and publish it."

Percy Smoot was very thorough, having kept records of everything during the thirty-two years that he was working for Spencer. I reviewed the matieral during the week after I received the crate but didn’t find anything specifically. But then my rivals uped the ante, offering $ 2,000 for the entire collection of documents. Of course, the more they push the more I want to hang on to them.

I still refused, and they then started to threaten harm to myself, my wife and her granddaughter unless I surrendered the materials. They threated to burn down our house in New York and implied bodily harm. So I had the crate moved and locked away in safe storage. My attorneys have made it known that the collection is now sealed and stored away in a vault outside of my immediate reach, and have been stalling the other parties

That was the same time that my friend Doctor Chernoviz wanted to get this Timucuan project going, so I shifted gears this direction. Shortly after I arrived some Pinkerton Detectives working for the other party showed up here and started to make trouble. We also had trespassers on the site, with evidence that they searched through our camp and belongings when we weren’t around. So that is why we got the Proclamation from he Governor and why Sol and I became deputized. We haven’t had any trouble since then." Lawrence pauses for a second and replies, "OK, James. You've convinced me. You know I wouldn't let you face this a man down. I'm in."

"Pinkertons, don't say..." Hardin's voice trails off and he seems to focus on something over and to the left of James for a long moment, a hard set to his jaw. He flexes the fingers on his right hand for a moment and snaps back.
"I certainly wouldn't want anything to happen and it's better to be safe than sorry," he says in his best Texas drawl. The Sheriff says, "That's good to hear. Well Mr. Hardin, your reputation preceeds you. So tell me, what in your opinion would be the advantages and disadvantage to my making you part of my law enforcement team? Hardin seems to jump a bit at the Sheriff's if he was thinking about something else. He recovers quickly.

"Well, Sheriff, let me start with the disadvantages, if I may. It involves that reputation. While this isn't Abilene or Gonzales, there are plenty who might want to test their mettle by going up against a gun hand with my reputation and get a dime novel written about themselves. I have no intention of ending up like Bill Hickok...shot in the back while playing cards. If trouble comes around...and Mr. Parker has already indicated it might...I will be ready and will take any steps necessary to defend Mr. or Mrs. Parker, Miss Ruby, Miss Abigail and the others. Also, even though an extended stay in the state vacation home for reprobates and scoundrels has mellowed me some, if I am expecting trouble...I might be tempted to shoot first and ask questions later."

He pauses for a moment and looks the Sheriff dead in the eye, with no twitch or hint of his lop-sided grin. "Now, that said, I have emerged from my confinement a reformed man...admitted to the state bar and an officer of the court. I am someone who intends to walk on the right side of the law going froward. In addition, my reputation as a fast draw and a deadly shot might also come in very handy in persuading ne'er-do-wells that surrender and avoiding gun play is in their best interests.

I assure you that my incarceration cost me none of my skill with an iron. The guards were quite amused by my trick-draw antics and even arranged for me to fire at the prison range with some frequency...while under appropriate guard, of course. If trouble comes this way...I will be worth any 3 or 4 deputies you could assign and you have my word that I will cause no unnecessary violence." Hardin says the last in a very matter-of-fact voice filled with utter conviction and no hint of bragging. He glances at James and nods and then settles back in his seat to await the Sheriff's reply.

The Sheriff smiles and says, "Well, sir, that is good enough for me. And reputation works both ways, word of you on my team also should to defuse many a situation. And while somebody trying to make a name for themself might try to call you out having another two or three deputies living in the same house should help there as well. They could arrest the person for disturbing the peace, leaving both your physical body and reputation intact."

The Sheriff turns back to Lawrence and says, "And you sir, the same question, what would be the advantages and disadvantages to my hiring you." He thinks for a minute, then says, "Well, I have a keen understanding of the criminal mind. I am very good at ferreting out information and getting in and out of places most cannot. Of course, that means I've spent a large part of my life on the other side of the fence from law enforcement. So you only have my word and that of James to vouch for me." The Sheriff tells Lawrence that James standing up for him is good enough for him.

At the next table, seated over near two beautiful women, Fish feels more than a little nervous. He avoids meeting Antoinette's gaze -- having worked with half-ogre women under the Big Top, he knows firsthand that conventional wisdom about the strength of their passions isn't altogether unfounded. He absentmindedly rubs the scar just below the back of his collar -- a bite mark he's thrilled to have once received. His implacable grin crooks up at its left edge. As for Abigail, he's gathered from her genteel speech that she's well-educated. "She'd be slumming to spark with me!" he tells himself.

To keep himself distracted from impure thoughts, Ben reaches for the breadbasket and offers it around the table. "Marmalade, anyone?" he offers innocently, "or butter?" Handsome silver they may be, but Fish palms the butter knives not for keeps but to provide occasion for a little banter. "Did they forget to set the knives?" he asks quizzically. Luiz states, "It appears that they did. Excuse me, I will go and take care of that oversight." He stands up and heads over to one of the cabinets on the south wall.

Fish steps up from the table and follows Luiz, joining him at the sideboard. He speaks to him in a low voice: “Dr. Chernoviz! I beg your pardon. I have the butter knives. There's so much brain power and beauty at our table, I was looking for an excuse to make conversation." Luiz retrieves the knife anyway and softly says, "Well, then, why don't we go back to the table and I will prompt you with questions regarding your past act of bravery and selflessness."

At the first table Mina and Gerta converse about her native Austria. Gerta explains that Heinrich and his brothers were senior palace guard for the Austrian Monarchy. Following the 1866 Austria-Prussian war the German Confederation was dissolved. When the new parilament was established in 1867 they gave patronage to their own friends and all prior palace employees were dismissed. That was when they decided to relocate to the United States.

Over at the second table Alsoomse and Obadiah get into a somewhat odd and rather animated conversation about migratory ducks. Obadiah is apparently an avid duck hunter and the marshes north of the river are a favorite location for his autumn duck blinds. Alsoomse actually has no problem with his hunting, as the birds have a sufficient population for it and the Delroy-Kingsleys use all of the duck's meat and feathers, unlike other hunters who hunt only for sport.

At the third table Antoinette asks Abigail all about New Orleans, as she is named after Jasper's mother of French descent who lived there. Abigail glanced quickly at Dr. Crane, remembering his sensitivity on the subject of her home. But there was so much more to New Orleans than what he knew, so much more complex and beautiful. "My home... it's a complicated place.

When the French first established the city they had a hard time getting anyone to come there, so people of all races were welcomed as they were needed. Eventually the French and Spanish intermarried with the high elves and ogres who had fled there from the Carribean. Their decendents are now called the Creole and are the undisputed leaders in the city. I have a Creole ancestor or two, but there are so many more humans in my family tree that I can hardly claim it.

But the city itself... such music and dancing you'll never see anywhere. In the French Quarter there is club after club, each offering its own brand of music, Creole, Cajun, classical, each offered with so much joy in living. That is the real hallmark of my home, looking the world in the eye and meeting it with joy despite its hardships."

Antoinette says, "My father Jasper has said as similar things. He moved away from there at such a young age he doesn't remember much of it. My Grandmother Antoinette was born in France. She and her older brother Gaston came to the United States as young teens, to Quebec City, as indentured servants to an elderly wealthy silversmith. They had had served four of their seven years of servitude until a time when the silversmith attempted to molest her, so she and Gaston fled, eventually settling in New Orleans.

They lived there for a quarter-century, where she wed a coopershop worker named Francois Delroy, and gave birth to Jasper. But her brother Gaston got careless, and made a trip to Toronto believing the silversmith dead and his own crime of being an escaped Canadian slave long forgotten. But the man still lived and had dedicated men to locating the runaway servants. Gaston was arrested and imprisoned. He died in prison, never revealing his sister's whereabouts or new name. To further protect themselves the Delroys fled New Orleans, settling here."

Fish says to Abigail, "Miss Marsters, what's your favorite? Café Beignet has the best bourbon, but you can't beat the Tarantula on Decatur for the groove. I don't imagine you've darkened the door at One Eyed Jacks," says Fish, blushing, "the stage show is a bit risqué."

Roy opened his eyes slowly, blinking quickly. He stretched his arms over his head and made a grunting noise. "What time is it?" he thought as he reached in his pocket. When he pulled out his watch and saw the position of the hands, his eyes widened and he jumped out of bed as if he'd been shocked.

"S***! I guess my quick nap wasn't so quick." He figured by now everyone was at dinner. He made his way into the bathroom and washed up a bit, trying to get his hair to do what he wanted. He then went and laid out a nice suit and got dressed as quickly as he could. He went down the stairs quietly, trying not bring attention to himself, and followed the crowd noise into the dining room. He ducked inside, trying to stay out of sight as much as possible, and sat down at the table next to Antoinette. He leaned over and whispered, in Orcish, "So what did I miss?"

While the dinner conversations continue Jemima goes into the kitchen and gets three hot peach cobblers from the oven, one for each table. At the conclusion of the meal, the Delroy-Kingsley family takes the food and dishes out into the kitchen to clean up. James invites everybody else into the living room/lobby for an after dinner drink. Benjamin makes a special point of thanking the Delroy-Kingsleys.

Ruby thanks her table mates, "Dinner was very good, thank you so much for sharing dinner with us and I look forward to more of your wonderful cooking and even more pleasant company." She takes George by the hand, leading him to one of the couches and leaves him there. "Safe my seat," she winks at him.

"No, you're right, Miss West, I'd best wait on that tipple," replies Fish, flashing a crooked grin. "Although to judge by your dexterity behind a bar, I have no doubt you'd pour it well.

Silver Moon

Chapter Fourteen, “The Timucuan People” September 1st, 1882, 7:00 P.M.

As people are getting their drinks and becoming comforable on the couches and chairs James Parker begins with the introduction. "We are very fortunate to have with us as a member of the Timucuan Conservancy Professor Alsoomse da Rosa. Born and raised in New England, she is a graduate of the prestigious Dartmouth College where she also has served on the faculty as well as being Co-Chairperson of the History Department. She was also intrumental in helping bring about the Supreme Court's ruling in the Dartmouth College Case of 1819, which established that private institutions of higher learning can operate free of intervention from the individual States.

For the last seven years she has served on the faculty of Princeton University, where she was invited to teach at the invitation of it's renowned President of the past fifteen years, Doctor James McCosh. Upon the completion of her Princeton contract she has accepted the postion of Secretary for the AGELESS Corporation of New York which serves as the principal benefactor of the Timucuan Conservancy. Professor de Rosa, would you please share with us what you have learned to date about the remarkable people who preceeded us upon this location?"

Alsoomse stands and says, "You flatter me James." Turning to the others she adds, "And what our humble host has neglected to mention is that without the ongoing support of James, as well as his father and grandfather, none of my life's accomplishments would have ever been possible. It is through the determination of the Parker family that the barriers to race and gender have been removed for me."

James replies, "Now who is being too humble? The Parkers may have helped but it was you who stood up for yourself." He turns to the others and adds "Her Algonquin name of 'Alsoomse' translates into English as 'Indepenedent', something she has always proven herself to be." Sol interjects with a laugh, "Well, if the mutual admiration society is now concluded can we get on with the story?" "My thoughts exactly, Mr. Solomon..." Hardin tips his hat at Alsoomse with a grin. "Ma'am." Ruby returns to George with two glasses of bourbon and gets comfortable. She listens intently to Alsoomse's talk.

Alsoomse begins "The Timucua are a fastinating people and one that very little has been known of. At their height they numbered 50,000 and occupied northeast and central Florida as well as southeastern Georgia. They are also among the few truly extinct elvan groups in North America. Whereas other tribal groups were reduced in number and relocated, the people continued their culture, language and heritage, not so with the Timucua. For all practical purposes their culture ended in the sixteenth century, just eighty-two years after their first contact with the Europeans.

One reason that the Timucuan people were different from others of the elvan race is that they isolated themselves, wanting no contact with any non-Timucuan tribes. They were also physically different than other elvan tribes, up to a foot taller in height. They wore little clothing, kept their hair up in buns atop their heads and had heavily tattooed bodies. Their language was also unlike any other elves in North America.

For at least 3,000 years the elvan peoples from throughout North America have sent representatives from every tribe to the Great Conclave, held every seventy-five years at the intersections of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. These are held when the 'Great White Bird Crosses the Night Sky', which is now known as Hailey's Comet. But the Timucuan refused to attend the conclave, nor would they even allow the tribes of southern Florida to pass through their territory to travel there.

The Timucuan were not a tribe but rather a confederation of twelve semi-autonimous tribes. Each tribe had as few as one village to as many as six, each village with its own chief. There were a total of thirty-five chiefdoms. The Timucuan also did not completely share a common language either, with only around half the words being the same throughout the Timucuan region, with nine different regional dialects accounting for the other half of the vocabulary.

The first Spaniard to land in Timucuan territory was Juan Ponce de Leon who landed at Saint Augustine, approximately thirty miles south of where we are now, in the year 1513. The next visitor to the Timucuan was Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528 along the west coast. In both cases they were welcomed with open arms as brothers and showered with gifts by the Timucuan.

The next Spaniard was Hernando de Soto in 1539, again along the western coast but further south. He came as a conquerer seeking gold, and attacked the Timucuan villages of that region, stealing all the stored food, forcing men and boys as bearers and taking women for consorts. The Timucuan were confused by this treatment and slow to act. Two battles were fought with heavy Timucuan casualties by the time de Soto moved on.

All three cases of contact had been between Spaniards and with four different tribes of the Timucuan. And while the Spanish had visited, they did not establish colonies here or elsewhere in their claimed land of Florida. That changed in 1565. Spain’s first colony was established at the site of Ponce de Leon's landing at Saint Augustine, which became the capital of their Spanish province with Pedro Menendez de Aviles as the Provincial Governor.

In 1565 Menendez ordered that the Spanish establish fortresses at strategic locations and to make sure that no natives resided anywhere near these fortresses. Six of these Florida forts were established in the lands of the Timucuan, forcing out half of the twelve established Timucuan tribes in the process. On Florida’s west coast near Crystal Bay, one-hundred-twenty miles southwest of here they established the Castillo de San Lacanto, displacing the Ocale tribe. On the west coast ninety-five miles from here, near the mount of the Suwannee River, they established the Castillo de San Carlos, displacing the Utino tribe.

Seventy-five miles to the north at the mouth of the Altamaha River in Georgia they established the Castillo de San Federica, displacing the Icafui tribe. Twenty miles north of here at the mouth of the Saint Mary’s river, which now serves as the border between Florida and Georgia, they established the Castillo de San Fernandina and displaced the Oconi tribe. Near Saint Augustine, twenty-five miles to the south they established the Castillo de San Marcos, displacing the Aquadulce tribe. And here near the beginning of the Saint Johns River they established the Castillo de San Mateo here on this very hill, temporarily displacing the Saturiwa tribe.

This proved to be a pivotal turning point in Timucuan culture, as all but one of these displaced tribes accepted relocation and abandonment of their cultural heritige. They began to assimilate into the cultures of either the Spanish or other elvan non-Timucuan tribes, including the Oconee tribes to the north and the Miccosukee and Creek tribes to the west. Those were among the tribes later merged in the 1700’s and relocated to south central Florida into what is now known as the Siminole tribe.

The one exception to this cultural abandonment was the Saturiwa tribe, who refused to leave this area at the mouth of the Saint Johns River. The Saturiwa were always considered to be the elite of the Timucuan culture and this very hill that we are on now was considered sacred to their culture, a holy place. They saw the Spanish as defilers of the land. So three years later, in 1568, the Saturiwa joined forces with a French pirate named Dominique de Gorugue, and attacked the Castillo de San Mateo. They killed all of the Spanish soldiers and burned the fortress to the ground.

The Spanish chose to not rebuild the Fort or directly engage the fanatical Saturiwa warriors. Instead they increased their naval presence along the Florida coast to deter future French incursions. Their blockade prevented the Saturiwa from using the River to reach the Atlantic. They then began a decades-long program of relocating the remaining still intact Timucuan tribes other than the Saturiwa. They moved entire tribal groups to various Spanish held Caribbean Islands, and thereby prevented the Saturiwa from being able to obtain these tribes as future allies. At their new homes these tribes abandoned what remained of their culture and adopted that of their new homes instead, assimilating into the culture.

By 1595 both disease and scarcity of supplies due to the isolation had dramatically reduced the remaining Saturiwa population. An Italian missionary of the Roman Church visited the tribe that year, and estimated there to be only between 1,000 and 1,200 remaining, with no working firearms among them and no more than 250 males of fighting age. Hearing this, the Spanish immediately assembled a military expedition to attack and destroy them.

But when the Spanish arrived here they found that only deserted villages remained. The Saturiwa had not relocated elsewhere in Spanish lands, and it had been only two months since the Italian Priest had visited. The assumption was that a quick plague had swept through and killed them all, although no bodies were ever found.”

Luiz stands and says, "And thus would end the tale of the Timucuan people. During the summer and with the help of the students from Bradford Academy we have conducted archeaological digs on this site, finding considerable evidence of both the Timumuan people, but also metal and bone fragments from the Spanish fortress that also briefly occupied this site. However, one mystery still remained."

In 1821 Florida changed from Spanish rule to become a Territory of the United States. A thorough survey was conducted of the population, including detail from the elves as to what tribe they belonged to. Five individuals in the Tampa area, 175 miles southwest of here, identified themselves as being Timucuan. This was not a huge shock, for while Tampa is further south than traditional Timucuan territory it is not that far from the western coastal lands where the Ocale and Unito tibes had been. Furthermore, in the 18th century that region was heavilty settled by the tribes calling themselves Seminole, which including lineage from several former Timucuan tribes. It was just odd that they identified themselves as Timucuan rather than Seminole."

"Now that I think about it," says Fish to himself, listening intently to Alsoomse and Luiz, "that 'coin collector' that I 'did business with' in New Orleans? He may have had the only Spanish villa in the entire French Quarter!"

Alsoomse resumes the story stating, "I took a look at those census records and came to another realization that would have been lost on others. It not only asked tribe but also principle language spoken, and these five had identified themselves as speaking Mocama. That dialect was not spoken by any of the western Timucuan tribes or any tribes who became Seminole. Only two Timucuan tribal groups spoke Mocama, the Tacatacuru tribe who lived immediately north of the Saint Johns River and the Saturiwa who resided here along the river."

Alsoomse says, "As the census was a mere sixty-one years ago, and given the long elvan lifespan, we presumed that some or all of these five Timucuan might still be alive today. So in July we made a trip down to the Tampa area in hopes of finding them. What we found was both encouraging and discouraging, the last of them having left eighteen years ago. But we were able to find a lot about them from the Seminole who had known them.

It seems that these five were not only Timucuan but of the Saturiwa tribe. They had lived in the Tampa area since 1595, having gone there directly from here. The accounts differ among the Seminole as to how many Timucan arrived then, some say as few as eight while others as many as twelve. What is consistent is that this small group of Saturiwa were members of two separate families, in order to enable them to still live in isolation but still perpetuate for another generation.

These Timucuan stated that they were the very last of their tribe. They told the elves of that region of the lush fertile and well irrigated farm lands here, as well as the abundance of fish. They said that in anticipation of the Spanish attack and destruction they had hidden away their boats and farming equipment, and would provide this information to the Tampa area elves, so that they could resettle here.

In return they asked for only three things. First, for a small section of Tampa land so that they could live quietly amongst themselves; Second, that the Spanish not be told that any Saturiwa still survived; and Third, that if any non-Spanish humans ever came looking for the Saturiwa that they were to be told where to find this handful of survivors. According to the Seminole, we are the first people to ever come asking about them.

Hundreds of the Tampa-area elves did resettle here then, finding the boats and farm equipment where it had been hidden. Some Timucuan villages had been burned by the Spanish, but others still stood. Believing in possible bad omens left behind by the Timucuan, these elves disassembled the remaining buildings where they stood and then used them to rebuilt a new elvan village on what is now the southern riverbank opposite from downtown Jacksonville. The elvan fishermen who live and work there today are among those elves and their descendents.

Of the five Tampa-area Timucuan from the 1821 census, two were the sole survivors of the group that had departed from here in 1595, the other three being two males and one female of the next generation. According to their Seminole neighbors, these tall elves aged at a much faster pace than is normal of elvan tribes, so by 1864 the elder two had died of old age.

That was near the end of the Civil War, when the Confederacy was becoming desperate for soldiers, so was conscripting Indians of fighting age. The two male Timucuan were at that time in the human equivalent of their thirties so would have been considered of soldering age. They refused to fight in this ‘White Invader’s War’ as they called it. So the trio traded all of their worldly possessions for a boat. They then set sail south across the Gulf of Mexico, although the craft was insufficient for such a journey. They told the Seminole they were going away to rejoin their fellow Saturiwa, which the Seminole interpreted to mean they planned to perish upon the sea. Nothing more was ever heard of them."

"So do YOU assume they perished at sea?" Ruby asks curiously. "Because it seems very odd that the whole tribe of people would just drift themselves off to sea to end their lives." Alsoomse replies, "We don't assume anything, that was the speculation of the Seminole. We are investigating a number of theories about what may have happened with them and hope to have some answers in the near future."

"From your talk it sounds as if you've found all you can here? Yet you have built this grand house here and invited us all here." Ruby grinned and sat back in her seat. "There must be more to this story." Alsoomse moves closer to Ruby, so that the Sheriff and his wife are behind her, and says, "That's the extent of it for now, but we hope to find more." As she says that, instead of looking directly at Ruby her eyes dart to the side, in the direction that the visitors are sitting."

"Ah, I'm so not good at mysteries and impatient to know the endings!" Ruby laughed, understanding the look she had been given. "Well, hopefully with all the new smart people here we'll be able to find a new clue to help solve your mystery Professor." James stands and says, "Thank you Alsoomse." She heads over to the bar to get a drink. Fish slyly inspects her carriage. He sips his bourbon.

George had been taking careful notes in his ever-present notebook and had a few questions of his own. He was about to catch Alsoomse's attention when he caught her conversation with Constance. He promptly closed his mouth, jotted a few more notes and closed his book. He then headed to the bar for a scotch. Fish watches the bookworm. He sips his bourbon.

Fish leans over towards Ruby and says, “Actually, I do find history rather fascinating. Why, just last week I acquired a handful of these..." He spreads several worn coins across the bar. "I did some business with a coin collector in New Orleans, and he had a bucket full of 'em. Jemima probably found the one I left her when she cleared my plate. If I didn't think you'd be insulted, I'd leave you a tip too!" He offers a grin that's not quite a leer.

Ruby quirked a smile. "That's entirely not necessary, we're all friends here after all. And yes, I know how to pour an absinthe, though it is really a more rare drink where I come from. I have come across them and do enjoy them myself. Perhaps in the future we can enjoy one together. As for your coins... I'm not certain who this Aviles person is, should I know?" As they talked she poured him a bourbon then pushed the small crystal glass towards him.

James says, "And we have one more activity to cover before calling it a night. Those of you who were at my table this evening have already heard this, but I have had some concerns about security. Towards that end our good Sheriff had deputized both myself and Mr. Star. After interviewing Misters Hardin and Cantrell he has decided to Deputize them as well." The Sheriff stands and says, "Mr. Hardin, Mr. Cantrell, please rise, raise your right hand, and repeat after me I, state your name, do hereby swear to uphold the laws of the County of Duval and State of Florida to the best of my ability and to carry out my duties in a thoughtful and respectful manner." Fish carefully observes the lawman's posture. He sips his bourbon.

"I, John Wesley Hardin, do hereby swear to uphold the laws of the County of Duval and State of Florida to the best of my abilitity and to carry out my duties in a thoughtful and respectful manner." He thinks to himself “Well that was a bit strange... “

Lawrence raises his hand and repeats, "I, Lawrence Cantrell, do hereby swear to up hold the laws of the County of Duval and State of Florida to the best of my ability and to carry out my duties in a thoughtful and respectful manner." He adds, "So help me, Zeus. Thank you sheriff, I will try not to let you down."

Following the oaths, the Sheriff pins a deputy badge upon each man and shakes their hands. The Sheriff and his wife then say goodbye to the people in the room and depart out the front door. James stands on the front porch and watches until the Sheriff's coach is out of site before coming back inside and shutting the door behind him.

Ruby offers Hardin her hand to shake. "Congratulations Deputy Sheriff! I guess you never thought this would happen, huh?" Hardin takes Ruby's hand and shakes it, grinning foolishly. The grin grows wider and wider and then he starts laughing...just a bit at first, but that cascades into howls of unrestrained mirth. After a few moments, the gun fighter's eyes are filled with tears. "Oh the sweet, sweet irony of all this..." He glances over at James and shakes his head in mock disbelief. Hardin then looks at Lawrence and tips his hat. “Deputy..." He bursts into fresh gales of laughter and mutters, “I need a stiff drink...” Lawrence nods back solemnly before breaking into a huge grin. "The sheriff doesn't know what he's getting into."

Ruby laughed along with Hardin. "I suppose a celebration is in order tonight! Drinks on the house," she teased. "Up on the roof under the stars sounds perfect!" James smiles and tells Hardin, “Well John, I believe in second chances and I trust you, so this should work out well for all of us. I also didn't want Sol to have to shoulder the responsibilities of security around here by himself, as I suspect that I personally may soon have my own badge taken away from me.

Sheriff Hotzbrun is far less bigoted than most of the ‘Good Old Boy’ lawmen in most of these parts, due to his having immigrated to the United States from Austria in the years following the war. But Duval County regulations state that only humans may serve as lawmen. When the good Sheriff discovers that I am actually one-quarter elvan that may very well be the end of my brief law career."

Ruby also congratulates Lawrence. "Have you always wanted to be a law man Mr. Cantrell?" Nanuet listened quietly and politely to Alsoomse's talk after dinner. He made no comments but admitted silently to himself that he was fascinated with the story of the Saturiwas. He offered his congratulations to the newly deputized and then waited to see if there was an answer to Lawrence's question forthcoming.

Lawrence says, "Please call me Lawrence, Miss West. Can I call you Ruby? To answer your question, I never imagined I would. I've usually worked on the shadier side of the street , if you catch my meaning. Came in handy during the war."

Leaning on the bar, George turns to Alsoomse, "So with company gone, what do you suppose happened to the Saturiwa? It would seem to me you are proposing that those survivors got into a boat, the though the other Siminole expected them to drown, the Saturiwa did not? So did the other Saturiwa sail away across the Gulf? And to where? Mesoamerica? An island? Or some antedeluvian remnant you have yet to mention?" asks George sipping his drink.

She replies, "It's still too premature to say, James and Luiz have a rather outlandish theory regarding that. They still have a few things to check that Thomas, Lawrence and Benjamin will have provided, that might prove out their theory. We'll all find out the results at the meeting tomorrow afternoon."

After the sheriff and his wife leave, Lawrence asks James, "So what's the real story? You know, the one not meant for public consumption." James says, “Several things, first of all, having several deputies here is the single best way to maintain security, and also provides legal cover in the event that we have to ever use firearms within Florida. Our jurisdiction is technically limited to only the County but the Governor’s proclamation will allow us some leeway elsewhere in the State. For that matter, even in other parts of the United States lawmen tend to be more lenient towards their colleagues, especially if we can claim that we are investigating crimes committed here.

Another story not meant for public consumption is a continuation of the one I began at dinner regarding the Whig papers. Ruby and George had an opportunity to review the documents after they left my presence, and believe that they may have uncovered evidence of a four-decades old Presidential assassination. That is the real reason the Whigs and their descendents want those documents back." Ruby exclaims, "Oh and those guys were nuts! They lied about our identities so they could follow us and go through our stuff and we're pretty sure they would have killed us given the opportunity! I hope we don't have to tussle with them again."

Ruby exclaims, "James, I am just DYING to know what's going on!! I hate waiting. I guess tomorrow will be here soon enough so no point in trying to drag it out of you." James smiles and says, "Well, I'll give you a hint. Luiz and I believe that there may be a direct connection between the Timucuan people and the ancient wizard population of the long-lost Island of Atlantis. I should have a more definitive answer by tomorrow." Thomas replies, "Most excellent -- my curiosity was definitely piqued as to the connections you might draw from the research tasks you asked me to undertake. I should be most interested to be part of the conclusion process."

Ruby exclaims, "Atlantis? Like the fairy tales? Now that would be... neat. George will be in heaven!" Ruby sipped her bourbon and pondered this new information. "Well, tomorrow will certainly be an interesting day. I think Sol mentioned going over membership to the guild with us. Will we have time to think about our decision?"

James looks to his colleagues and says, “Well, it appears obvious that our new arrivals are quite anxious to hear what this is all about. I had planned to wait until you were all rested from your long journeys here, but so be it. I guess that's what I get for surrounding myself with inquisitive people. Sol, please get the decanter. Luiz, the newspaper clipping please.”

Luiz heads into his office, soon returning with a large piece of newsprint. Sol goes behind the bar and returns with a decanter with a clear liquid which he places upon the coffee table in the center of the room. Ruby states, "Well... I didn't mean to be pushy... well, okay, I guess I did," she laughed, settling back into George's arm and getting comfortable.
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Silver Moon

Chapter Fifteen, “The Real Story” September 1st, 1882, 7:30 P.M.

Once people are settled in James says, “Welcome. By now you have all had an opportunity to become acquainted with one another. I will still need some more time to conduct further research with items and information that Lawrence, Roy and Thomas have provided, but I can tell you some of what this is about now. What I have to share with you will need to be in the strictest confidence. Upon the conclusion of this discussion now I will ask each of you if you wish to joint the AGELESS Corporation as a paid employee, just as I will ask you again tomorrow after you have even more details. You are under no obligation to agree to this.

However, should you decline the offer I will ask that you consume some of this beverage,” as he raises the decanter. “It contains an Elixir of Forgetfulness. For each ounce consumed you will have no memories of the preceding hour. I will then make you an alternative employment offer. This would be to not join our group but to instead work as an occasional consultant with the Timucuan Conservancy with emphasis on the Native American aspects of this project only. If those terms are agreeable to each of you we will continue.” Abigail heaved a sigh of relief. "I'm glad to hear you say that. I was already getting a bit tired of tip-toeing around one of my talents."

Ruby asks, "Being this.... paid employee... is that a full time job?" Ruby's eyes went to George, knowing he would not want to abandon his photography business completely. If that was the case, they would need to discuss whether she would join without him, or not. James replies, "Probably not, except for the five of us who are the corporate officers. We five will need to be involved in both the commercial and scholarly exploration elements of the corporation. The remainder of you will just be needed for the scholarly side, which I envision to be occasional missions that not all of you would be needed for each time."

"I can't imagine turning down anything having to do with Atlantis, but I assure you I understand the terms. And the need for secrecy. You are quite open about the use of a magical elixir among this group," Abigail finished. James says, "Each of you have no qualms about the use of wizard magics, that is part of why each of you were selected for this invitation. So, if any of you have objections to consuming the Elixir of Forgetfulness should you decline the offer now it the time to express that."

"I can't imagine passing up any opportunity for knowledge and truth," Thomas replies, "and I assure you I would not be here if I did not trust you implicitly, Parker, with both my life and my soul. You have my bona fides without reservation." Roy exclaims, "After all the shi-er-stuff we've been through together Mr. Parker, you should know I'm in whatever the mission is."

Hearing no objections from anybody, James continues. “I have always believed in ‘hiding in plain sight’, with the best way to keep something secretive is to appear to make it public. Thus, we are set up here as a historical archaeological site with a corporate sponsor as our financial benefactor and affiliated with an institution of higher learning. However, that is just our cover story, albeit a variation on the truth. In reality, we are here for a very different archaeological mission, with a different corporate sponsor and a different educational affiliation." Ruby prompts, "And that mission is...?"

Lawrence leans forward in his chair and says, "Do tell, James. A bit more of the cloak-and-dagger game? It makes sense, what with you asking me here." James continues, “Most of you know me. I am a patriotic American, as were my relatives. Captain John Parker, who led the American Militia at the first Revolutionary War battle of Lexington Green, was my cousin. My father worked with George Washington and the founding fathers to establish the Continental Navy during the American Revolution. And when I was a young man I enlisted in the United States Navy and served as an officer aboard a warship during a key battle earlier in this century.

During the American Civil War I was again called into service. I was put in charge of forming and leading a team of undercover operatives for the United States. Our primary mission was to keep wizard magic from the Confederacy. We did this by infiltrating the south and doing whatever it took to prevent wizard magic from falling into Confederate hands. Due to the fact that we ourselves used illegal wizard magic to accomplish this my tean reported to the more expendable Postmaster General Montgomery Blair. That gave Secretary of War Stanton and President Lincoln plausible deniability in the event that we were caught.

The Civil War team was a group of fourteen, comprised of ten men and four women. We were mostly successful in our efforts and twelve of us survived the war. Six of us assembled here today, myself, Lawrence, Roy, Sol, Thomas and Wilamina were participants in that endeavor. Well, I am sorry to have to say this, but the world is at war again. This one, however, has been for the most part a secret war, the key governments involved not wanting to bring it to the attention of nations not already directly involved or highlight the fact that it re-ignites the conflict between wizard and clerical magics. This war is being fought on the world stage, with the prize being the very secrets of Atlantis itself. The players to date have been England, France, Spain, Portugal and the United States.

Doctor Chernoviz and I have decided to actively engage in this conflict, and I realized that another large team would be needed. The team make-up of fourteen worked well last time, so I thought to duplicate that configuration this time. That is why you have each been asked to come here. The United States government’s role in this conflict has been defensive in nature, and they are in no way sponsoring our group’s efforts, nor do they have any actual knowledge of what we have in mind."

Abigail interjects, "There was a story in the Times Picayune, last March I think. Does this have anything to do with that island that appeared and the British ship that found it?" Feeling somewhat left out of all this yammering about magic and geopolitics, Fish offers rather quietly, "I'm pretty good at 'finding' things..." "I have every faith in your ability to find whatever it is you're looking for," Abby teased.

Luiz says, "Yes, that is this article. As James indicated, this is about the Lost Continent of Atlantis. According to two of the three volumes written by Homer, Atlantis sank into the sea as a result of a shifting of the continental plates, which changed the entire landscape of the Atlantic Ocean. By the best scholarly accounts, this occurred approximately 2,735 years ago, plus or minus twenty years." James adds, "And that was where the sunken island remained until half-a-year ago."

Luiz states, "This newspaper story was printed on Monday, March 13, 1882 in the New Orleans Times Picayune newspaper under the heading “Mystery at Sea”. It reads as follows:

The British merchant ship, the S.S. Jesmond, made an unscheduled stop in its journey on its way to our city. It had departed from Messina, Sicily with a cargo of dried fruits on February 26th. When the ship reached an area 200 miles west of Madeira and 200 miles south of the Azores they noted that the ocean had become unusually muddy and that the vessel was passing through enormous shoals of dead fish. The ship's Captain David Robson then saw smoke on the horizon, which he presumed, came from another ship.

The next day the fish shoals were even thicker and the smoke on the horizon seemed to be coming from the mountains on an island directly to the west, where, according to the charts, there was no land for thousands of miles. Captain Robson anchored offshore, worried that reefs surrounded this uncharted island. Even though the charts indicated an area depth of several thousand fathoms, the anchor hit bottom at only seven fathoms.

Robson went ashore with a landing party and found a large island with no vegetation, no trees, no sandy beaches, bare of all life. The shore they landed on was covered with volcanic debris. With no trees they could easily see a plateau beginning several miles away and smoking mountains beyond that.

They headed toward the interior in direction of the mountains but found that progress was interrupted by a series of deep chasms. To get to the interior would have taken days. They returned to their landing point and examined a broken cliff, part of which seemed to have been split into a mass of loose gravel as if it had recently been subjected to great force.

The sailors then found an arrowhead in the broken rock, and Captain Robson send for picks and shovels form the ship so that the crew could dig into the gravel. He and his crew soon uncovered crumbling remains of massive walls. They continued to dig near the walls for better part of two days, finding bronze swords, rings, mallets, carvings of head figures of birds and animals, and two vases or jars with fragments of bone, and one cranium.

Then they found what appeared to be a mummy enclosed in a stone case, encrusted with volcanic deposit so as to be scarcely distinguished form the rock itself. The rock sarcophagus aboard the Jesmond as dark clouds began to roll in off of the horizon, and Robson resumed his course. This reporter has examined the artifacts and they appear to be authentic. Robson's plans to donate the artifacts to the British Museum upon his return to England."

James says, “Not only do we believe that all or part of Atlantis rose to the surface, but the leaders of the wizard-magic nations of France and Spain both believed it as well, to the point that they were willing to risk war against both England and the United States in order to obtain those artifacts." Abigail comments, "They've taken some kind of action? It must have been incredibly circumspect." Roy says, "We're talking about France and Spain, here. Neither country is exactly known for its patience."

James says, "No, the actions were just not publicized. There were four attacks on American soil and one in American waters. Upon receiving telegrams of the newspaper story the Spanish King Alfonso XII ordered Spanish warships to New Orleans to capture the British ship S.S. Jesmond. At dawn on Thursday, March 16th, in what was clearly an act of war, two squadrons Spanish soldiers boarded the docked ship, killing its crew and several New Orleans policemen. They stole the vessel and reached the Gulf of Mexico where two other Spanish warships joined them.

On Saturday, March 18th, fifty miles south of Key West, Florida a small armada of British and United States vessels attempted to recapture the Jesmond and a battle followed. The Jesmond was sunk, as were both Spanish ships and the USS Radcliff, an American frigate. Over one hundred Spaniards drown and another sixty were taken prisoner. The combined American and British casualties were light, four dead and fifteen wounded. All three governments have kept the conflict a secret, lest the seas be filled with treasure seekers. Navy divers on the Jesmond have found no evidence of the artifacts, nor are they about the Spanish ships. The Spanish prisoners claim that there were no artifacts on board the Jesmond.

As to where the artifacts have gone, the French Government believed them to have been removed from the Jesmond the night before the Spanish attack. They believed that the artifacts were being transported westward by train, and also committed acts of war on United States soil to try to obtain them. "Ah ha!" thinks Fish to himself, "I am good at finding things!" Should anyone glance Ben's direction at that moment, they see his grin broaden into a wide, self-satisfied smile. "Now it's all beginning to make sense!" he thinks. "I have reason to believe that not all the artifacts left the port of New Orleans..." says Fish out loud.

Lawrence asks, "Fish, how do you know that?" Thomas looks up, surprised, and then smiles as he considers how Fish might know. "Oh ho, Fish! By all means, do tell!" Fish replies, "It just so happens that I'm acquainted with a coin collector in The Big Easy. He's a very curious fellow -- and by that, I mean both that I find him very curious (personally and professionally), and that he himself dabbles in many a different endeavor, collecting exotic art and rare precious stones and antique coins and obscure manuscripts. I couldn't begin to tell you how many intellectual pursuits that man chases!" Fish blushes (although you'd have to be awful perceptive to see through the false modesty!).

"I've actually worked for the fellow. I've been in his home. Last I was there, I overheard him dictating a message to a courier -- something about meeting with a 'Captain Robson.' I doubt very much that he knew I'd heard him. I had cause to stop by his manor early the next morning. I can tell you with complete confidence that he took delivery of something from this Captain Robson!"

Lawrence asks, "How big was the package? Where is this collector's home?" Fish replies, "Perhaps I should qualify my remarks, Mr. Cantrell: I don't know the whereabouts of all the swag that was sitting in the Jesmond's hold, but I can tell you that something of apparently great value to Sir Guilleault was delivered to his manor from Captain Robson shortly before his ship left port."

"The courier arrived with a satchel slung over his shoulder. His gait told me that the package had some heft, but he certainly wasn't limping from its weight. Guilleault's manor sits on St. Charles Avenue, overlooking Tulane and Loyola Universities to the north and Audubon Park to the south. There's a great little pub just around the corner called The Coraline. Why do you ask?"

James says, "What Benjamin is refering to is an exiled French Arch Mage Andre Marc Guilleault, who now resides here in the United States, in New Orleans. It is rumored that Guilleault was the one that was responsible for secretly removing the Atlantean artifacts from the S.S. Jesmond last March and placing them upon a westbound train. We believe that he no longer has any contact with those objects, although where they are now remains a mystery.

Since March, Guilleault has been investigating leads regarding the Atlantians. He was the first one to began looking into the Timucuan people as a possible link. Establishing this Conservancy should keep him from investigating that avenue any further.” Glancing in Fish’s direction James then adds, “And as of now any Timucuan-related objects that were in Guilleault’s possession have since been commandeered......and are now available again for our review.”

Now continuing with the tale. On Friday, March 17th a motorized cigar-shaped hot air balloon carrying a dozen soldiers of the French Foreign Legion crossed the Mexican border in to Texas and attacked the moving train as it neared El Paso. It was only due to the quick actions of United States Army at El Paso that the train was defended.

Then on Sunday, March 19th another battle took place on United States soil, in Hidalgo County of the New Mexico Territory. Approximately three-dozen soldiers of the French Foreign Legion fought against United States Army troops. The Army defeated them without taking any casualties, and captured both of the French officers including the commanding General. The General claimed he was after stolen French artifacts that were being transported across the desert. And finally in mid-June there was a conflict of some sort at a the border town of Naco in the Arizona Territory, where some French wizards were killed on the United States side of the border and their bodies and possessions were confiscated by the Army at Fort Hucucuca. No further details of that incident are known."

"I am shocked, completely shocked by this," Thomas says. "For France or Spain to act so brazenly, so overtly, they must truly believe that there is some incredible power to be had in the obtaining of these artifacts. For them to risk all-out war with the United States or Great Britain, I can only assume that they believe that whatever secrets of Atlantis these items hold or can lead to will alter the balance of power worldwide." Thomas pauses, looking down at the table in contemplation. "This is grim stuff, Parker, grim stuff indeed."

James says, "Oh, there's more. We haven't even gotten to Portugal's involvement yet. Shortly after this newspaper story appeared King Louis I of Portugal had dispatched his entire Navy to the location mentioned in the newspaper article. When they reached that point they found muddy water and dead fish but no evidence of an island. Depth measures were taken, indicating the ocean floor was thousands of fathoms below.

The French and Spanish navies arrived shortly thereafter, and the only reason that a great battle didn’t follow was because there was nothing physically there to fight over. The French and Spanish eventually retreated, as the closest land was the Azore Islands, which are owned by Portugal, so the Portuguese have the strongest claim to those waters. Half of the Portuguese fleet returned to Europe, with the remaining still investigating the waters where the island was reported to have appeared

And King Louis himself has now personally been overseeing the situation. This is not altogether surprising, as King Louis has always had a passion for Oceanography, with the disturbance of the waters of that area leading to the discovery of several new aquatic specimens that had not been part of his collection. King Louis is also a friend of mine and actually invited me to join him in exploring these oceans. While I have presently declined his invitation, that is an avenue potentially left open to us in the future.

So Portugal’s efforts are centered on that one section of Ocean. Spain appears to have temporarily withdrawn from this conflict. England officially has as well, although they are still seeking reparations through diplomatic channels from Spain for the Jesmond.

France’s government however continues to be a problem. France’s government has been in a state of confusion and disarray all year. Their previous Government fell in a bloodless coup last January led by the druidic high priestess Louise Michael. A committee comprised of political rivals now rules the country.

The situation among these people has been so precarious that they have created more chaos than order. Several of these politicians each hoped to get their hands upon the Atlantian artifacts in order to strengthen their own control and rise to individual leadership of the government. The most aggressive of these individuals is General Jacquet LaFlame, who controls the forces of the French Foreign Legion. And he's already proven that territorial boundries mean nothing to him."

"So are we going after these artifacts or the Island of Atlantis or both?" Ruby asks casually. Lawrence says, "My dear, I suspect we're going to rescue Atlantis's treasures from our European friends. Our talents would be wasted in claiming the island for the US. By the way James, did the English claim the island for Victoria?" James replies, “There is no record of them having done so.”

Abigail states, "This question might be before its time but I'm going to ask anyway. Mr. Parker, what is our ultimate goal here? Beside the desire to know... the connections between the Timucan and Atlantis, what happened to these artifacts... I share the desire to know. But what are we going to do with that knowledge? Much as I would love to learn and advance my skills from the knowledge of Atlantis that knowledge set loose on the world would cause chaos."

James says, "It is exactly because of the return of Atlantis and potential of Atlantian objects being around that we must act, to prevent the world from going to war.

Our real problem isn’t from the governments, but from powerful individauls who are now actively seeking the Atlantians independent of their governments. I’ve already mentioned the French wizard Guillieult. Another group searching is an English faction known as the Hellfire Club, who deal with both arcane magic and the supernatural. They are headed by Alister Crowley, an evil wizard and megalomanic who seeks to find and use the Atlantian artifacts to control those around him.

However, our greatest potential competitors and rivals are a independent team of French adventurers. I found out about this group quite by accident, as my son overheared a stray comment made by his best friend, whose nephew has apparently joined this team. Through survelience on that nephew, we have been able to learn the specific identities of three other team members. Interestingly enough, all four of them are members of a very exclusive association of French wizards."

Luiz states, “We presume that the this private wizard’s club is the sponsor of this rival team and that all of the other members of that team also belong to this wizarding group. They are informally known in mage circles as the ‘Weekly Wizards’, as they possess a powerful artifact that prolongs age and confers good health. To gain this benefit the artifact each wizard must remain in sole possession of the artifact for at least one week a year, thus this group limits itself to fifty-two members.

Luiz takes out a sheet of paper from his suit jacket pocket. He says, "I have here a current roster of all fifty-two members of the wizard society. They are a formidable group, comprising France’s top inventors, engineers, mathematicians, scientists, artists and writers. Given the abilities and resources available to them, if they have dedicated themselves to discovering the secrets of Atlantis, then is it only a matter of time until that they accomplish that.”

James states, “So that is the primary reason that why Luiz and I have founded this Adventurer’s Guild of Exemplary and Legendary Explorers, Scientists and Scholars. We are in a race, a world-wide scavenger hunt, to unearth the lost and hidden knowledge and keep the world at peace. My friends, this is a contest that I intend to win! So, my question is, will you join us?"
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Silver Moon

Chapter Sixteen, “Decisions” September 1st, 1882, 8:00 P.M.

James had explained the purpose of the organization and asked, “So, my question is, will you join us?" Thomas stands, looks at the gathered luminaries, holds his wine up in the air, and says, "You have my unequivocal and hearty yes!" Roy exclaims, "I think you already know my answer, Doc." Nanuet stands and says, "I too agree to join this worthy and noble group. Count me in." Fish looks about the room at his new associates. "Beauty, brains, brawn and good bourbon. How could I refuse, Mr. Parker? Count me in!" Thomas muses to himself as to where he falls in Fish's taxonomy... brains or brawn ... or both? ... and then quietly chuckles.

Still curious about what they would do with this knowledge and these artifacts once they'd assured that peace, Abigail chimed in, "You couldn't tear me away, sir." Hardin affects his best West Texas accent... "Gosh James, that sounds like an awfully long list of 'people who might not be very nice'...sounds like fun!" Hardin's thoughts turn inward for a moment. “Wonder if I still have it...” Lawrence touches the badge on his shirt. "James, you don't need to ask. In for a penny, in for a pound. It'll be just like the old days."

George had been taking notes as he was often doing. And he looked up at James, quite pensive and set his pen down and looked at his finance. And was silent for a long time as he stared at the ceiling. "When do you require an answer James" he said finally "I have ongoing commitments as you well know as well as important future plans" said George as he squeezed Ruby's hand. "This is a monumental commitment you are asking of us, one I cannot make lightly or on the spur of an impassioned plan." "Bookworm..." think Fish to himself, "...and brains!"

James replies, "George, I recognize that you have other commitments. We are not looking for you to remain here permanently, nor will every mission be using Jacksonville as our base. Our Corporate headquarters in actually in the New York City area, no more than a half-day's train journey from your Rochester. What I am seeking is to occasionally call on your specific area of expertise. Two members of the French wizarding sponsor group are photographic experts, so we may need somebody to help counter that. I will ask each of you again tomorrow afternoon following the follow-up discussion about the Timucuan."

Ruby nodded and smiled reassuringly at George. "We can speak about it tonight if you like darling and work it out. I know your expertise is probably greatly needed here if James is asking for your help. Let's discuss it later." She squeezed his hand." George and I will discuss it tonight but you can consider me very interested. Someone has to take care of my grandmother after all," she teased. James smiles and replies, "And I was thinking that was my job!"

Ruby says, "And I’m curious...about Atlantis rising. I have heard this story before but didn't know I would end up involved in it! So what happened to the land? Why did it rise up and where did it go, did it sink back into the water? Is it there and just invisible possibly?"

Alsoomse says, "We do not know actually why, but it appears to have both risen and sunk. My druidic leaders believe the timing now has something to do with the Atlantic Ocean Earth Spirit having moved south of the equator to watch over the South American continent." Mina interjects, "Ruby, I believe that you said that you and Nanuet know something about what transpired with the earth spirits." Ruby replies, "Umm, yeah, we do."

Ruby looked around to the group of people gathered. They all seemed very enthusiastic about joining with James's new group. Everyone except for perhaps George, who admittedly already had a lot on his plate. Plus he was never one to make a hasty decision. "I don't know what you all know about the earth spirits. Before my own little adventure with them I didn't know anything either. I suppose I could talk a little about it." Ruby swallowed the rest of her drink, recalling the dangerous times she has shared with her friends.

"All of the major lands and oceans of the world have their own spirit. They are actual physical creatures and they live a long time, like 500 years. They influence the land they watch over, some for the good, some for the evil or others chaos or neutrality. We were told that during the time of the Vikings their spirit was hospitable and allowed a lot of travel over the seas for exploration. After that spirit passed on the next spirit wasn't as nice and the oceans became untravelable. The spirit in Africa has great hatred in it's heart and allowed it's people to become slaves to the human people."

"So anyway, not too long ago," she scrunches her nose, "Um... in January, two of the spirits mated, which is what they do... the baby will take the place of one of the parents. The current North American spirit who is good natured and the South American spirit who is not so much. The North American spirit contacted our little group, which included Nanuet and I, to protect her after giving birth, because the South American spirit set in motion a plan so she would be killed and he would survive to go on, the baby replacing the mother instead. Hmmm...," she tapped her lips, "You may be curious to know the North American spirit is a huge, beautiful metallic... dragon. The baby is, was a baby anyway, a chimera, like it's father before him.

The father lured hunters to where she was protecting the baby, hoping she would die so he could live. We protected her and in the process the other spirit was killed. That baby will eventually take the place of his father in South America. But I guess for now the Atlantic Ocean spirit needed to watch over South America so the ocean has been left untended, allowing Atlantis to rise and fall?"

Hearing lots of yammering about stuff which Trout had no earthly idea... he looks into the bottom of his old-fashioned, now empty of bourbon, Fish asks himself, "Did she put something in my drink?" Fish sidles up to Luiz, swirling the last cube of ice in his empty glass. He says very quietly, "Thank you, Mr. Luiz, for keeping our little episode with the flatware on the low-go..."

Turning back to the assembled group he says, "Well, I don't have anything else planned for tonight or tomorrow morning either. Feel free to make yourselves at home. The Delroy-Kingsley family will be bringing up lunch for us at noon and after that we'll meet upstairs in the conference room to discuss my findings." Lawrence says, "That sounds good. I'm going to get another drink. Anyone else want one?"

He walks over to the bar. Pouring himself a whiskey, he asks James, "This deputy thing, do I need to get a gun? You know I only own a derringer." Hardin ambles over to the bar as well. "Sure, I'll have another. Also, see me later if you want an iron bigger than a pop-gun...I would be happy to help you out." He winks and grins broadly... "Lawrence replies, "My pleasure, Mr. Hardin. Here you go." He hands Hardin a glass of whiskey. "I'll have to take you up on that offer. If I'm going to be any sort of self-respecting lawman, I'm gonna need a proper shootin' iron." He grins. "How about that, me a 'proper lawman'?"

"It doesn't hurt to have some extra help in that department," Ruby winked at James. "I think I will head to my room to get comfortable then perhaps some stargazing is in order. I still have some unpacking to do too." She walked to the bar and reached far over it, stretching to get her hand on the bottle of bourbon she left out. In her other hand she grabbed two glasses with her fingers then nodded for George to follow her. "Good night everyone, I hope there are pleasant dreams all around. I will probably see you all... at lunch tomorrow," she grinned. There was no reason yet she had to suffer and get up early. That would be cruel punishment for everyone.

Fish joins the others at the rail. "Mr. Hardin! Do that trick where you bounce a quarter off the bar and draw your pistol before it bounces again!" he says cheerfully. "I read about it in one of those silly rags that seem so fascinated with you!" Hardin sighs a bit and looks at Fish. "Don't believe everything you read there, youngster. Besides, it has been a long-time since I tried that."Fish sees a glint in his eyes...”Still..." Hardin trails off and fishes around in his waistcoat pockets. His fingers emerge with a pair of silver coins. He glances at Fish. "Say 'when'..."

Hardin waits for the 'when' and bounces the quarters off the bar and has both Colts out of their holsters and leveled before the coins hit the apex of their bounce. "How's that?" Fish is beaming. "That was magnificent!" With sleight of hand Fish then grabs and pockets the two coins then adds the comment, "...but where'd your coins go?"

Doctor Pedro Luiz Chernoviz joins Lawrence, Fish and John at the bar and says, "Well, as the co-founder and Chairman of this new venture, I can attest to you gentlemen being exactly what we need for lawmen on this site. And the key law that will need to be enforced is no trespassing, otherwise we might have witnesses to our own breaking of this fine nation's laws. I for one have never lived within a anti-Wizard magic nation before, and have no intentions of finding myself imprisoned or executed for practicing witchcraft."

With a flip of his wrist, Fish slaps Hardin's coins on the bartop. "Misdirection is a beautiful thing, Dr. Chernoviz. A beautiful thing! If people don't see you do something, they can't get their knickers in a knot, now can they? I happen to know a thing or three about subterfuge!"

Ruby returned to her room where she spent some quality time unpacking, and imaging in her mind what other furniture she would like and how she wanted her room set up. The bourbon was delicious and she had forgotten any old feelings that came with imbibing in that particular demon. She carefully took out and arranged her bath and personal items in the bathroom between her and George's room. It was a beautiful and modern bathroom and as she ran a hot bath and the room filled with steam she sighed happily, hanging her crisp new white nightgown and pink silk bathrobe on the door. Here she thought she would be camping and instead she was spoiled with more luxury then she thought she would ever have down here in sunny Florida.

The bath was just filled to the brim with hot water and bubbles as she twisted her thick red hair above her head. She slipped into the relaxing bath to soak away any bit of strain the earlier trip has caused her. She leaned back into the large bathtub and the songbird sang herself a beautiful and happy lullaby to calm herself into contentment.

George listened to Ruby sing as he too unpacked, and as she finished he entered the bathroom, bringing a chair with him which he set by the tub, sitting down facing his fiance. "The accoustics in here don't do you justice my love." he says with a smile. "So Constance, what shall we do about your Step-Grandfather?" says George as he pours himself a bourbon. " I fear I am faced with a difficult choice as we discussed on the train. I know you answer already, though I am grateful you did not express it to James yet." says George with a sad smile.

Ruby hesitated just a moment before answering. "I cannot know my answer until we know yours baby. Yes, I am very excited to join the group and all the mysteries and adventures to be had stir my heart." She tilted her head and looked into his eyes. "But if you have some good reason why I shouldn't...And what of you? Why can't you join up? I know your photography business needs you now. However, you have so many competent people in charge, I can't see any harm in it. James even said you don't have to go on every mission or you... we... could work out of the New York office. Occasionally. Your smarts and your expertise in photography and your business sense is probably very much needed here.

So why are you sad? What is the problem?" She reached out of the tub, dripping bubbles on the floor, to retrieve her glass of bourbon. She sipped at it slowly, giving George time to think on his answer. George sighed and took off his spectacles rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Yes I do have several good people in place to run the business. But I don't know that I am ready to give that up."

"Or you" he adds looking at Ruby. "After all these years, our wedding is imminent and now you at least are rushing off into gods know what danger and will be rushing about on the ocean now instead of the desert. This was not the life I envisioned for us Constance." George sighed again and put his spectacles back on. He stood up, filled Ruby's glass to the top with bourbon and leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. He picked up the bottle of bourbon "I am going to talk a walk and think on this" he said as he left the bathroom.

"Wait!" Ruby called out after him as he walked away, "Don't go!" She jumped out of the tub and grabbed a towel, barely covering herself with it as she ran into George's room. Bubbles dripped down her arms and legs and formed into a puddle at her feet as she followed him. "Hold on baby, I want to TALK about this. Don't walk away from me please. Please tell me, what is the life you envisioned for us? I thought that as long as we were together, everything was perfect. I didn't know you were so against this."

George smiled at Ruby, "Well, I don't know that I am so against this, I need to think about it." George leads Ruby back tot he tub so she doesn't get a chill and sits down as Ruby gets back into the bath. "But yes, together life is wonderful. But Constance, have you ever stopped to wonder about life after this? Life not spent running from place to place, but staying in one place and building something. A company, a marriage, a family?"

" I did envision quiet Sunday picnics in the park with you, our children playing near us. I fear that vision may not come to pass if we spend all our time gallivanting about the globe. The others down there aren't......anchored to things they way I am. They way I want to be. While I love adventure and exploring, I am getting ready to want to settle down, establish myself, lead a life of quiet. Where I can buy tickets to the theater and expect to actually be there for the show. But I need you to finish your bath and get all clean my love. And I also need you to let me go think on this for a while."

Ruby blinked at him at few times. He was so handsome but right now all she saw was the worry on his face. "I don't understand, George. I..." She again reached for her glass and this time took a huge gulp. "I'm not ready to be a mother. I don't know if I'll EVER be ready to be a mother. You know, that is a really scary thought..." She shivered, and it wasn't from the water being cooler now than it was. "I... I'm not really sure what to say. I thought you would just be happy being with me. I told you that I can't be that girl... the one who dresses up like a doll everyday to look pretty for the few minutes that day she gets to see her husband... the girl who goes to teas and gossips and is expected to tighten her corset and sit up straight and be quiet and have absolutely nothing to do all day but eat and get fat. And raise babies."

She took another sip and looked away from those big brown eyes of his. "I can never be that girl, even if I wanted to." She rubbed her forehead as if a sudden headache had come on. "I understand a bit about the company... I am very proud of the life I made in Promise City and my Saloons there but you convinced me to be with you instead of help them grow. And I made that choice, for you. But you know, George you KNOW how badly I have wanted, no needed, to travel and see the world. I mean, we could even have babies and travel... you said you would open an European office and we could make our family while we were there off doing..."

She stopped. All this blabbering was foolish. She turned her gaze to look out the bathroom window, the white curtains blowing in the warm breeze and she was quiet for a few minutes. Finally she said, with just a tinge of flatness in her voice, "Why don't you go think on it. I'm sure you have all the information you need to decide. And then you can tell me what our decision is so we know what to tell James tomorrow." Ruby hears the door to his room slowly close as George leaves. Ruby sits in the tub, drinking large swallows of her bourbon, hoping he'll be back soon.

Downstairs, Nanuet approached Alsoomse and spoke "Now that the business of the day is over I am going to spend some time with Maska. You had shown interest in her before, perhaps you'd like to meet her now?" Nanuet heads outside and walks back up the driveway about 50 yards or so before kneeling down to pet his invisible companion. "Find yourself some dinner girl? I think it's cheating since you're invisible. Now that were here I'll have to ask Ruby to fix that, so that everyone can see how pretty you are." All the time that he is speaking he is gently stroking the invisible wolf.

Alsoomse has accompanied Nanuet. She says, "I could do that if you would like, dispelling magic is a fairly easy spell. I could teach it to you later if you would like." He replies, "But I have no arcane skills. All of the 'magic' I have ever done has been through prayers and magical artifacts." She replies, "There is a clerical version of the Dispel Magic as well, that is the one that I can teach you." Nanuet motions towards Maska "But yes, that would be a very handy trick to know. If you could lift the spell I would be grateful, if you could teach me how I would be indebted."

She approaches the wolf and speaks softly to it using words from her own native language, with a soothing tone. She removes from a belt pouch a polished stone that is approximately five inches long and an inch in diameter that is flat on one side with runes carved into it. She then softly casts a spell with a minimum of hand gestures. Maska does not immediately appear, but instead slowly materializes over the course of a minute, becoming transluscent at first and then visually solidifying. Nanuet watches Alsoomse closely, even mimicing her when he could trying to get a feel for the spell. Alsooomse tells Nanuet, "Maska is beautiful. My brother had the wolf as his spirit guide and raised several New England Gray Wolves."

He replies, "Thank you. She has been an important and loyal companion. You say your brother 'had' the wolf as his spirit guide? Was their bond broken somehow?" She says, "He, like most of the Wampanog tribe, have been gone for three centuries. Our tribe once occupied most of what is now known as the state of Massachusetts, as well as the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and the eastern half of Long Island. At our height the tribe had a population of 12,000. We welcomed the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1620, and I attended the First Thanksgiving with them. Chief Massasoit sought peace with the humans, which lasted for over a half-century.

But the humans brought diseases that we had no immunity or cures to, which depleted our numbers. Elvan enemy tribes, the Micmac to the north and Pequot to the west then attacked us for our lands, further reducing our tribe. However, our true downfall was due to our new Chief, Massasoit's son, Metacomet, who the humans called King Philip. He led an indian rebellion is 1675, uniting the New England tribes against the 35,000 humans who had settled in our lands. The history books call it 'King Philip's War', we lost with over 5,000 elvan casualties. Metacomet was executed by firing squad. At the end of the war only 400 Wampanog remained, most of us women and children. We were relocated to reservations on the Island of Martha's Vineyard. That was where I met my human husband, a Portuguese fisherman."

He replies, "That is an amazing story. You have seen so much in your life. Most of my tribe, the Yavapi, are gone also. Those that are left have mingled in with other tribes now, forced to live on reservations also." Nanuet absentmindedly strokes Maska's fur gently, hint of sadness in his voice. "It seems to be turning into a sad story, the history of our people. There are too many tales similar to the ones we share now."

She replies, "That is true, and I have made the study of the Elvan people my life's work. We each do what we can. I have read the treaty that you helped negotiate between the Army and the Apache last January. You should be very
proud of what you did for them. And while we have each known sadness, there are things to be happy about at well. My daughter and great-granddaughter live happily back in Massachusetts. My great-grandson is currently away in Africa but I have hopes to see him fairly soon. And with my grandson and his loving wife here in Florida, I am quite content to be here as well."

Nanuet says, "Thank you, it was my first experience with such things and I learned much from it. The Apache are a proud people and fierce warriors, it was not an easy peace to make, but I am sure you understand all that. You speak of places I have only read about in books as if they are around the next corner. Is not Africa the land of the Ogres and across the ocean?" Meanwhile, Thomas had stepped outside and hears Nanuet ask Alsoomse about the ‘land of Ogres.’ As he may have something relevant to add to the conversation he wanders over in that direction to join them.

She replies, "It is, and they are a greatly mistreated people as well. My Great-Grandson Jonathan is currently in the colony of Portuguese Guinea, south of Senegal and north of Guinea. He is in its port city of Bissau, establishing one of the commerical ports for the AGELESS Corporation. The goal is to have the local ogres sell their products directly to us. We in turn will maximize the profits to the workers for their rubber, palm oil and animal hides rather than having to go through intermediaries who typically pay the orges only a fraction of what the goods are worth."

Thomas says, "I would very interested to lend whatever assistance or advice I could to their ventures," Thomas says. "As you might imagine, I would be very supportive of any African ogrish commercial ventures, and have some background in sea borne commercial ventures."

Alsoomse welcomes Thomas's arrival outside and says "Two of the AGELESS Corporation ports are in Africa. My young great-grandson Jonathan first established one in the port city of Luanda, in Portuguese West Africa, also known as Angola. My late husband's nephew Alursius Ruiz da Rosa will be managing that office. For the time being Jonathan will head up the office in Bissau, Portuguese Guinea. One place that you might be able to help while you are here Thomas is with the Jacksonville Office, as Sol is still getting it organized."

Thomas replies, "I would be honored to assist Mr. Star in getting the offices here in order. Also if, perchance, there would be any need to route goods from the African ports to the Mideastern or Northeastern Seaboard, say Norfolk, New York or Boston, then I believe I could easily facilitate a port office and way station in Bermuda as well." Alsoomse replies, "I am sure that is a distinct possibility, Sol can tell you more about the ship movements. I do know that they are planning to avoid the more common trade routes, so Bermuda might not be very far out of the way at all."

Silver Moon

Chapter Seventeen, “The Intruder” September 1st, 1882, 8:30 P.M.

Meanwhile, as Roy and Abigail are heading upstairs alongside each other from the second to third floor they hear a 'clunk' sound from further up on the fourth floor, even though no one from that floor (Roy and Fish) have gone up to their rooms yet after dinner. Abby stopped and stood stock-still, holding out her hand to interrupt the probably about to be dirty joke Roy was telling. "You don't suppose Fish is taking an alternative route upstairs?" she asked, clearly not thinking so. "Get help or check it out ourselves?" The opt on the second choice, quietly making their way upstairs and then slide open the door, startling a man who has a slight expression of surprise on his face.

Roy states, "You'll be wanting to sit down in that chair behind you, friend, right now or else." Roy very quickly pulls out his pistol and say, "I warned you." Roy thinks to himself, ‘I hope he sits down.’ The man begins to momentarily lean in the direction of the chair, but then springs backwards towards and through the center of the open window in a move very similar to how a pole vaulter clears a pole. Roy's gun is pointed as the man continues to tumble and roll across the third floor dormer roof of Abigail's room.

Roy shoots at the figure but misses. He turns to Abby, "At least that warned the rest of them. Go downstairs and tell them what we saw and where he went. And get Fish up here quick!" He moves onto the roof and try to keep an eye on the intruder. The man rolls off the dormer roof and falls to the porch roof below. The man continues to tumble across the porch roof towards the pillar on the east side of the stairs. Roy curses under breath, "I'm gonna f***in' kill myself, I just know it,” as he tries to follow.

The fired shot is heard throughout the area. Ruby and George are having their conversation in the bathroom in the southeastern corner of the third floor. Down at the bar Sol, Fish, John, Lawrence and Luiz hear the shot three stories above. In the President's office James and Mina hear the shot. Fish yelps, "Trouble!" -- and sprints toward the stairs. Lawrence freezes as Fish yells, "Trouble." He says to no one in particular, "I'm getting too old for this." The forger-turned-deputy makes his way upstairs to the third floor.

Ruby heard the shot and it sounded close. "What was that?" Ruby said out loud, not wasting any time to jump out of the tub. She grabbed a towel, ran to her room, grabbed her gun and ran into the hallway, dripping bubbles the whole time. Holding the towel precariously closed with one hand she said to no one, "What WAS that?"

Above, Abigail watches as Roy makes a perfect swan-dive leap out the window and then tumbles across the dormer roof to her room and over the side just as the man did before him. When he thinks he can, Roy decides to take another shot. Abby clenched her teeth at being relegated to nothing more important than getting help. She waited just long enough for Roy to jump out the window, then sent a magic missile down at the fleeing thief before she turned, glanced quickly around the room to make sure the man didn't have an accomplice, then ran for the door to do as Roy has suggested. The missiles strike the man as he rolls off the porch roof and onto the pillar, clearly inflicting damage but not enough to stop him.

Outside, Thomas, Alsoomse and Nanuet turn and look up in the direction of the shot. Looking at a part of the building 120 feet to their east they see a man in dark clothing fall onto the porch roof directly above the front steps on the north side of the building. The man rolls off the porch roof beside the pillar and as he is falling the 23 foot length to the ground wraps his arms and legs around the pillar to slow his descent.

Thomas, hearing the shot and seeing the man tumbling off the roof and sliding down the pillar, distractedly says "Excuse me, please" to Alsoomse and Nanuet, and then breaks out into a run towards the man, whilst tossing off his dinner jacket and rolling up his cuffs. As he does so, he believes he sees the small figure of Roy sail out the window in a perfect dive, in pursuit of the man.

The man reaches the base of the pillar and seeing the half-ogre charging across the lawn, crouches down behind the steps. Roy reaches the edge of the porch roof and manages to stop himself before he falls over. Peering over and down, he sees the man crouched down in the corner and becoming translucent. Roy fires a shot down, the bullet going through where the man is as he fades from sight. Thomas reaches the front steps in time to see Roy's bullet travel through the fading image of the man who then vanishes before his eyes.

"Sonofab***h!" Roy yells loudly. He peers down to see if anyone is standing on the porch. When he sees Thomas, he says, "Did you see what I seen, Doc?" He'll jump down into Doc's, hopefully, upstretched arms. When he's back on the ground, he'll look up at Doc. "What the f*** was that all about?!" Roy's still plenty mad about all this.

Thomas replies, "I am not entirely sure, Huggins, but assuming whoever that was is not still about under cloak of invisibility (and your shot at him would likely have struck if that was the case), then I believe some other form-altering magicks are afoot here. We should likely summon the others here immediately. Kindly call for them, Roy, whilst I examine the area."

Just after he sets Roy down, Thomas dons his spectacles, and then quickly mutters an incantation for Detect Magic, roughly focused on the spot where they last saw the man. The spell draws Thomas's attention to a couple of items lying in the dirt, which appear to have been pushed down by a hand print. He sees that they are a small vial made of dark glass and a wooden cork, each of which still have enough magical elixir residue on them for detection. The spell also has Thomas now noticing a powerful magical aura around the ornate front doors to the building and magical glass on both of the large front windows of Luiz's office.

Hardin comes dashing outside, guns drawn, but too late to do any good. "What in blazes is going on out here? Are we under attack already?" The tone in his voice indicates he wouldn't be too unhappy if they were... Roy explains the situation and excuses himself to go back to his room and look if anything is missing. Hardin nods at Roy, half-listening, and watches the beast bound away, trying to sniff out a trail. He cocks his head for a moment, thinking.

Nanuet hears the commotion and responds as quickly as possible. "Maska, come!" he says as he moves quickly towards the house following Thomas. Hearing what is going on he kneels down to Maska and says "OK girl, find him!" and sets her loose in the area where the man was last seen. Hardin quickly holsters the Colt Lightening and reaches around behind his back, under his coat-tails. His right hand emerges with a huge long-barreled Colt hand-cannon. He grins, "Just in case..." He starts walking slowly after Maska, raising the weapon to the ready.

Thomas stoops and picks up the vial and cork, fastening the stopper, and pocketing it for future examination. "Roy, we should tell the others that our mysterious interloper might still be afoot. It is probably best that we fan out and search carefully, keeping within eyesight and earshot of one another. Unless I am mistaken, I believe Nanuet and his companion might be of some assistance in this regard, perhaps tracking him from this spot where he disappeared." As he says this, Thomas sees Maska run up to the very spot, and notices that Roy has left the area.

Roy sees Ruby leaning out of the third floor window, trying to see what's going on. "Oh, Roy, hey. What's going on? I thought I heard a gunshot." She adjusts the towel, pulling it a little tighter. Lawrence reaches the third floor and hearing Ruby’s voice heads to that room. "What's going on? Is anyone hurt? Whoa." He turns his eyes from Ruby. "Sorry Ruby. I didn't realize you were not decent."

"Not decent?" She adjusts the towel again, "What are you talking about? I'm always more than decent. I should be insulted," she laughed. "Did YOU see what happened? I don't think anyone is hurt up here. Roy's at a loss for words for some reason but otherwise I don't know what is going on." Lawrence replies, "I didn't mean anything by it. Just that you're wearing just a towel and all." He looks pointedly at her face. "Ahem. All I heard was a faint gunshot and then Fish said there was trouble. Where is Fish, was it an accident?"

Ruby replies, "Yes, I suppose it's not the usual outfit you see women in," Ruby laughed. "I don't know where he is or what is going on at all. I'm not exactly in the position to go exploring and I'm not sure I am needed to go running off. So unless I hear something else I will probably go back to my bath. " Roy has arrived on the third floor and states, "Well if it makes you uncomfortable, by all means feel free to not wear it," with a wink. "I don't know what was going on, but somebody was rifling through my room but it looks like he got away. He just kind of... disappeared. Literally. Anyway, I'm going to go see if he took anything."

Although he's the first person from the lobby up the stairs (zoinks! can that boy ever move!), Fish is too late to intervene. Ruby's bare legs distract him, but he quickly gathers from what the ladies tell him what has just transpired. His brow furrows, and he immediately dashes to his own room to check the duffle under his bunk.*

Roy tells of the man vanishing in midair. Ruby interjects, "Oh, invisible huh? I can do that...." her voice trailed off as she realized she was alone. She shrugged. Lawrence and Roy and Fish had all hurried off to check their rooms and Ruby found herself standing alone, wet and chilled in the hallway. She went back to her room and looked around for a bit to see if anything was out of place. Once she was pretty sure nothing was missing she returned to the bathroom and reheated and rebubbled her bath. Someone would let her know if things were amiss and she was needed. She settled in the bath again and hoped for a quiet rest of the night.

Maska and Nanuet find no fresh tracks. They do discover another trail two porch pillars away (the northeast corner pillar of the front porch) that has the exact same scent. Nanuet guesses it to be around two hours old, which would have been when the group would have been sitting down to start dinner. The pillar was painted recently enough that scratches are visible where the man apparently climbed up.

Backtracking on the trail from this pillar it heads northeast across the dirt lawn, soon intersecting with one of the stone bicycle paths heading northeast along the river. About a half-mile east they reach a point where the smaller St. Johns Creek flows into the river.

At that spot they find evidence based upon the indentations on the shore, where a small boat appears to have been pulled up onto the shore and temporarily hidden in the reeds. Nanuet finds four sets of footprints in the damp marsh-like soil, two fresh and two a few hours older, both from the same pairs of feet. The larger pair appear to be from a male wearing either mocassins or some similar type of form-fitting shoe. The other pair of shoes appear to be from a woman's boots. The boat is now gone and they do not see it on the river.

After a quick stop downstairs to let the Parker's and anyone else still downstairs what had happened, Abby continued on outside still in her stocking feet. Nanuet will gather the group together and explain what he and Maska found. "There was no trail leading away from here, but I did find the trail leading to the house. It lead me northeast to the river where I found signs of a boat and a second set of footprints. Did anyone get a good look at the person? The tracks seem to indicate a man and a woman exited and returned to the boat."

Abby states, "I saw him, but he obviously knew what he was doing. He was all in black, including wearing soft shoes that would be exceptionally silent. It couldn't have been more than luck that Roy and I heard him before Roy reached his room.” Nanuet says, "That explains the tracks I found at the river. They were some sort of soft sided form fittings shoes. Perhaps we need to start a watch, have someone keeping a lookout at all hours of the day and night?" Luiz says that he spoke to the Delroy-Kingsleys and that Jasper, Obie and Enoch will take turns guarding at night from the front porch and around the house with their hound dogs.

Thomas says, "Indeed, that's probably a good idea, contingent upon whether we discover further intrusion into the more secure areas have occurred or not." He looks around at the assembled group, and lowers his voice: "We should also ask Mr. Parker and Dr. Chernoviz as how well any staff or associates related to the estate have been vetted. I do hate the very thought of mentioning this, but I am concerned that our intruder might have had a greater knowledge of the interiors than what might be gleaned from a cursory external perusal of the house and surrounding area. The fact that he struck whilst we were at dinner puts me at great unease." A bby nodded. "Best to look into every possibility, no matter how careful Mr. Parker may be."

Abby says, “He was fairly non-descript, although he did have a rather long nose. He was searching Roy's room, and if he was here for some time we should all check our belongings. He couldn't have taken anything large, but he had pouches on his belt, so small things could be gone." Walking up after retrieving his dinner jacket, Thomas says "Agreed, and I would add that his acrobatic departure indicates professional training or experience, similar to what one would expect from a circus performer or show gymnast. And then there is this..." Thomas removes the vial and stopper from his pocket.

"I imagine that we will find that this is some potion, likely of wizard magic devising, that enabled our unwelcome guest to dissipate his form, as opposed to merely cloaking him in invisibility. So what we have is a trained professional of some sort, with some kind of magical assistance or backing. We should ascertain whether any of the inner sanctums of the house were violated ... my guess is that he was not here to rifle through our undergarments."

"Well, maybe not yours..." Abby said with a grin. "I'm sure you're right, and if he's that professional he'd have a chance at finding some of the secret places. Mr. Parker should do that search, although someone with sharp eyes should help with that. It didn’t take long for our lives to get exciting, did it?" Thomas looks down into Abigail's eyes, and smiles, saying "Well, Miss Marsters, it is always exciting whenever you are around."

Taking just a moment too long to reply to appear unflapped by the compliment she answered, "I hope you like things exciting then. It's certainly nice to be appreciated. And when are you going to start calling me Abigail? It's perfectly alright, you know." Thomas bows slightly, "Well, old habits die hard, and I imagine I do not need to remind you that Queen Victoria's subjects throughout the world embrace decorum and etiquette above all else... Abigail."

She replies, "Indeed, and I have the finest manners in the world, when they're required. But it's nice to hear my name spoken by a friend," she said, giving him a gracious curtsey the equal of his bow, followed by lifting up her foot in just stockings. "Loses a bit of effect without shoes, doesn't it?"

Both fourth floor residents discover that they items appear to have been looked at, although nothing seems to be missing. Sol stops by to check each room and find out the status. Sol informs James that "None of the small staircase panels or trap doors appear to have been disturbed so the intruder stuck to the main staircases. He appears to have entered from the porch roof to and checked out most rooms on the third and forth floor. There is no evidence that the second floor or roof were breached."

After a half-hour Luiz returns with the vial and says, “I have analyzed the residue from the vial and cork, it is clearly an Elixir of Ethrealness. There are several variations on this type of potion. It was first invented seventy-five years ago by the renowned French alchemist Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac, who is still alive and also one of the French wizards on the list of fifty-two that we mentioned after dinner. However, this specific version of the elixir is not the one by Gay-Lussic.

This one appears to being a fast-acting version that is created for and used almost exclusively by the Swiss military. Producing this version of the elixir requires some very special equipment and also a rare component, the blood of an elusive ferret-like animal that lives in the Swiss and Italian Alps. A small number of these elixirs are commercially available, sold on the black market by corrupt members of the Swiss Army’s Quartermaster Corps. The current retail cost for a single-dose vial of this type of elixir is in the $1,200 to $1,500 range.”

Sol says, “I am acquainted with two individuals in the Jacksonville area who traffic in high-priced contraband goods, including magical elixirs. It probability came from one of them. I had planned to introduce either Lawrence, Benjamin or Roy to each of these individuals within the next week. We could make inquiries about this specific type of elixir. I sincerely doubt that either would reveal the identity of their customers, but we could possibly get a message delivered to the purchaser through the seller.”

James tells the others, “The intruder’s identity remains a mystery. We have no reason to believe that the French wizards are aware of our activities yet. It is possible that the archmage in New Orleans could have discovered Benjamin’s recent activities.” Luiz interjects, “Doubtful, I am familiar with that man from my time in France. He would not have been sneaking around. His style would be with a direct confrontation in the most flamboyant manner possible.”
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Silver Moon

Chapter Eighteen, “Trapdoors and Sketches” September 1st, 1882, 9:30 P.M.

James thinks for a minute and says, "Luiz is skilled at drawing people and anatomy, having done all of his own illustrations in his medical books. Since Abigail and Roy each got a good look at the man’s face he could probably create an accurate drawing from your descriptions.” Roy relays as many details as he can remember about the man, including what a small penis he had and that he was probably so limber because he was used to be being bent over so many times. He will also start to make many disparaging remarks about the man's mother and how he was probably the result of his mother having relations with her own brother, his face getting redder the whole time.

James calls everyone together and says, “I hadn’t planned to go over this aspect with you until your confirmation to join tomorrow, but under the circumstances I guess I’d better. You’ve all seen the staircases from the second floor to the roof on the east side of the central hallway. Well, for security purposes, on the west side of that same hallway is a narrow hidden staircase that runs from the basement to the fourth floor, with secret entrances to the 1st floor dining room, 2nd floor conference room, Lawrence’s chosen room on the 3rd floor and the unoccupied west room on the 4th floor.

We also have hidden trapdoors down in each of the bedrooms, for use in emergencies. Luiz’s bedroom has a door down to his office. Mine and Mina’s bedroom has doors down to both mine and Alsoomse’s offices. Sol’s bedroom can access his office. Attorney Hardin’s room has trapdoors to both his security office and the photographic laboratory. George’s room has a door to the Scientific Laboratory. Ruby’s room has a door leading to Sol’s room. Alsoome’s room has a door down to mine and Mina’s room. Abigail and Thomas’s rooms each have corner trap door’s to the main lobby staircase landing. Lawrence’s room has a trapdoor to the upper catwalk in the Commercial and Logistics room. On the upper floor, Benjamin’s room has a trapdoor down to George’s room. Roy has a trapdoor to Abigail’s room. The eastern room has a trapdoor to Alsoomse’s room, and the western room has a trapdoor to Thomas’s room. Now that you all know that, some of you may opt to switch rooms." Fish keep his impure thoughts to himself.

Ruby says, "My room is fine, I trust Sol. And I'm sure if George was here he would be thrilled to know he has direct access to the lab." She answered the questioning looks with, "He's taking a walk." Lawrence states, "I'm fine with my room, the guy used etherealness, so he could get anywhere. Anyhow, having a back door sure comes in handy. Can the trap door be barred, though? No sense in borrowing trouble."

James says, "Yes, the trapdoors can be secured from either side. We built this entire building with security in mind. Part of the reason for the angled roof and dormers as well as the two-story pillared porch was to allow quick access and mobility, I guess I should have taken into account that it could have worked against us as well." Lawrence says, "That's OK, who knew that there'd be acrobats who wanted to get in? We'll chalk it up to a lesson learned. Do you know anyone who could set up an alarm system of some sort?" James says, "I trust that many of you could be of assistance with that task."

Roy nudges Thomas and whispers with a wink, "You wanna switch with me, Doc?" Flustered to the point of blushing, Thomas replies sotto voce while looking at Abigail:"Why, I, um ... (gulp) ... um, if you would prefer different accommodations than you... um... have now, then by all means, I am happy to ... um... accommodate your ... desires... I MEAN, wishes... er... preferences. For Jupiter's sake, Huggins, try to stay focused on the matter at hand!"

Roy whispers again, "Don't get all flustered, Doc, I'm just kidding. By the way, I think she might be a virgin." Roy is trying very hard to keep a straight face. For a half-second, Thomas ponders Roy's last statement: "Do you really th...?", and then quickly re-gathers himself, gazing down sternly at the gnome: "Honestly, Huggins, it is a wonder that any of your mental faculties other than your libido function, given their obvious atrophy from the blood flow that seems to be diverted away from your brain into your nether regions!" Roy shrugs. "Better than it just collectin' dust."

Thomas glares at the gnome a few seconds more, before breaking out into a guffaw that he quickly stifles when the others look over at them. Abby caught Dr. Crane looking toward her as he broke out in laughter. The corners of her mouth twitched and she lifted an eyebrow at him. Even after just one day's company she knew it was likely Roy had made some off-color comment, quite probably at her expense. But she didn't really mind. Better the honest lecher than the one who tries to hide it.

Luiz finishes the picture from Abigail and Roy's description. He shows it to the assembled group. The illustration includes the man's dark suit which is of a specific cut and style that went out of fashion in the 1850's. John, Lawrence and Fish each recognize the face as being nearly identical to the woman who was on the train with them and taking notes. Lawrence snaps his fingers and says, "Hey, wait a minute. I've seen her before." He turns to Hardin and Fish. "Doesn't that look like the woman in our train car when we came to Florida? She must have been following us. But was it luck or did information on us get out there?"

James says, "Are you sure? Roy was fairly certain the intruder was a man, and gender identification is one area that he has quite an eye for." Roy interjects, "Well, I did say he was dickless." Fish chimes in. "I did try to get a look up her skirt, and failed." He catches himself, realizing what he's said (and in mixed company besides!). He blushes. "That woman on the train? Maybe s/he was in drag...s/he did have quite the big ol' nose!" Roy says, "You looked for the Adam's apple, right? Right? Come on, man, you always look for the Adam's apple." Lawrence says, "I’m Pretty sure, James. The lady got scared off by Mr. Hardin before she got close to us. So I can't be 100% sure."

Abby comments, "Well, if it was a woman, she was woefully... underdeveloped. Didn't Nanuet say there were two sets of footprints, or am I remembering wrong? A man and a woman? Perhaps they are family, so look alike?" Thomas nods, "Yes, I was thinking the very thing myself -- perhaps they are twins." Roy grumbles, "Probably lovers, too." Fish squints. "Mr. Parker, would you happen to know any contacts in Jacksonville with firsthand knowledge of what gets fenced in that town, and when? And who's buying?" He then adds quietly, "I might know someone who knows someone..."

James says, "I don't but Sol does." Sol says, “Yes, I was mentioning it earlier to James and some of the others. I am acquainted with two individuals in the Jacksonville area who traffic in high-priced contraband goods, including magical elixirs. It probability came from one of them. I had planned to introduce You, Lawrence, or Roy to each of these individuals within the next week. We could make inquiries about this specific type of elixir. I sincerely doubt that either would reveal the identity of their customers, but we could possibly get a message delivered to the purchaser through the seller.”

Fish nods. "Introductions may not be necessary with me, sir, at least not with both of these fellas -- there can't be that many 'entrepreneurs' fencing high-end contraband in Jacksonville! The man I know as 'Luke Wheelwright' deals in orchidaceous bric-a-brac. I'd not stand in the same room with him without a wall at my back, mind you, but he does pay top dollar. If I had to guess, I'd wager that he is one of the men that you had in mind for us to meet, yes?" Sol smiles and says, "Yes indeed. Let's visit him together on Sunday. I'll take either Roy or Lawrence with me to visit the other."

Ruby had been uninterested in the discussions... she didn't see immediate danger and she was worried about George and what his decision was going to be. She returned to her bath again and settled in. Back downstairs, Abby states "Well, if that's all for this evening, I think Ruby had the right idea about a bath. It's been a long journey and a long day following. So I'll see you all in the morning," she looked over at Roy with a grin and said, "And not until the morning." "That's ok, sugar," Roy says with a smirk. "I don't mind keepin' the lights off."

James and Luiz excuse themselves to head up to both the laboratory and library to research the items that had been delivered to them this day. Wilamina stays in the living room and engageds Thomas in a long discussion as to what he has been doing since she saw them last. Alsoomse heads back outside with Nanuet to finish moving the last of her possessions out of the ten-by-fifteen foot wood and animal skin lodge that will be his new home. She leaves him a charcoal stove and shows him the rope cords which pull back the rooftop skin above it so that smoke will exit when the stove is being used.

Sol takes Roy, Benjamin and Lawrence on a tour of the secret back staircase, showing them the entrances on each floor on both the central hallway side and interior side. He also shows them were the trapdoors are in each of their own rooms as well as the rooms that are currently unoccupied. Lastly, he takes them up to the roof and shows them a magical latch on the central telescope that activates a Illusion that makes it appear to anybody not on the roof that it is unoccupied and that the telescopes are all stationary.

Fish retires to his room. Like any thief, he's always at least a little bit paranoid -- more so now given the events earlier today -- and so he rigs a pinch of flash powder to trip should anyone disturb either the trapdoor, window or hall door. Roy does a sweep of his room one more time to make sure everything's in its place before turning in for the night. And Jasper Delroy begins to make the nightly patrol around the building with two of his hound dogs.

Leaving the others downstairs, Abigail went to her room and enjoyed a long, hot bath. It was going to take a lot of energy not just to do her job here, whatever it was going to be, but to deal with Roy and Fish. She rather liked them, but her wit was going to have to get quicker if she was going to keep up. But that didn't matter now. After the long soak Abby dressed herself in her light nightgown and climbed into the unfamiliar bed. She was tired enough to fall asleep almost instantly, even in this new place.

Ruby sat in the tub, drinking large swallows of her bourbon. She watched as the sun went down and the stars came out and her tub water got cold, and George still had not come back. She got out of the tub, dried herself off, and put on a lovely white nightgown with French lace on the bodice. And George still had not come back. She brushed her long hair in the mirror, and tied it up in a bow for bed. And still George had not come back. Ruby crawled into the soft cotton sheets of the bed, wonderfully cool on her skin. She snuggled in, pulling the covers up to her chin. Tears roll down her cheeks as she cried herself to sleep because George still had not come back and Ruby feared what that meant.

Would he ask her to come back to New York to still live a painted bird in a cage? Or leave her here in Florida, choosing his company over her? Or would he insist on having children soon, no matter where they were? All these thought cascaded through Ruby's head along with the bourbon, as her tears fell and she finally found escape in sleep.

It was late when Ruby felt someone crawl into bed with her. Her instincts kicked in and she whirled with a derringer in her hand, ending up with it pointed at Georges face. She was so happy she threw her arms around him, and began to cry once more. George carefully removed the derringer from her and held her for a bit. Then she lay down as he laid next to her, his arms wrapped around her tightly. Ruby could smell the bourbon on him, he must have drunk the rest of the bottle, better than half of it, which worried her, George never drank that heavily. Worry and doubt crept back into her mind and her heart beat fast as George began to speak.

"Constance, I did a lot of thinking. And I thought especially a lot about what James said. About these artifacts. And about the events that have already surrounded them. About the acts of war that have already occurred. How James thinks war will come of this. And I don't know that if I have the chance to stop that, if I can refuse. And if war is coming, I must be with you, near you. I can't live without you, so even if I chose to be in New York it might leave you in the path of war. And you are right, I have some good people in place, but I will need to be there from time to time. And I thought I could ask James for a larger lab to work on a few things while I am down here so I don't have so much down time.

And, we don't have to have children right now. Though I do want them, we do have sometime, especially if you extend your life. So, what I am saying my love, is that yes, we shall join AGELESS as full members. If I wish to leave a better world to my hopeful heirs, I need to work towards peace. And lets face it no one will buy film in a war," he says as he pinches her.

Ruby grabbed his face and pulled him to her so she could kiss him. She pressed up against him as she did, the warmth of him comforting to her. She kept her palms on his face even as she slowly pulled her lips away from his. "That is good news," she said, somewhat hesitantly. "You are such a good man, you always do the right thing. We will do the right thing together and lend our services where we can. And I am certain James will give you what you need, perhaps even make you your own building here."

The then thoughts swirled in her mind and George could see she was conflicted about something. He nudged her nose to nose and asked, "What's wrong?" Ruby wasn't sure how to answer but could not speak of doing the right thing and not tell the truth. "Well... we have never spoken of babies before. I don't think I would be a very good mother. In fact, I am positive of that. And..." She tried not to get too upset speaking, which she considered silly over the fact it was something she never wanted. But George wanted it and she wanted him and wanted to make him happy... "I don't know if I can have babies anyway."

George laughed and Ruby pouted. "What? What is so funny?" she said hitting him with a pillow. "Constance, do you love me? Would you do anything for me?" Ruby replied, "Of course." "Well then you will make a fine mother, some day. You will find your capacity for love expanded beyond belief. And as for having children. I happen to know a priest of Asclepius back in New York, and I am sure he can help us." says George stealing the pillow away from her and hitting her so she fell back.

George leaned over her and kissed her. "Constance, we will worry about that in a while, but have no doubt that I will make it so if WE choose it to be. But I do hope you will think on it long and hard." She stared up at him seriously, her eyes searching his. "I will think on it long and hard, for you, I promise. I just don't want you to be disappointed is all. For a lot of reasons. You know, if I can't do it." She reached up and pushed some stray hair off his forehead. "But I am only 19 after all, too young to be thinking about babies. Now the making babies part I am all for..." Her lips slowly formed into a wicked grin and she pulled him closer to her. "I don't recall you telling me how much you love me and that you would do anything for me in the last few moments... darling..."

"Well at 25 you become a spinster so we had better get going on you," laughs George "But yes my darling Constance, you know I do love you desperately, you intoxicate me. And I would do anything, anything if you were to but ask." George bent and gave Ruby a slow, deep passionate kiss. "And forgive me for earlier, my heart's flame, but you know I need to think things through and work them out carefully. But don't tell James just yet, I want some leverage on him for a new workroom," says George winking before moving his kisses down Ruby's neck.

Ruby ran her fingers through George's hair, leaving her hands resting on his head as he showered her with kisses. "There is nothing to forgive baby, it's just you being you. It's kinda nice to know I can rely on that. And I won't tell James, I'll let you do the negotiations yourself. You are the business guy after all. I'm just the singer. Young, beautiful, sexy, desirable singer who you want to have your babies, but, just the singer. Even if I am quickly on my way to being a spinster." She cracked up laughing at that.

"So..." she tapped her fingers on his head, "You'd do anything I asked, huh? Anything? Whatever should I ask for..." She kept drumming her fingers on his head as his kisses moved lower. "What if I wanted a big huge mansion to live in? Or my own private tropical island? Or the rarest bird on the planet?" She laughed, "Oh, I know. What if I asked for a star? I do so love stars..."

George came back and kissed Ruby deeply on the lips. "The sun, the moon and the stars are yours if you ask for them my love. Name your desire and I shall make it so, for you are my desire and all I require is you," replies George putting his forehead on hers as he looks into her eyes. "Well then...," she said slowly, her naughty grin in place, "I require something that will take all your resolve and resources and energy. And that is..." she ran her finger across his cheek to his lips, "That you stay with me tonight." "I could not think of a better place to be this evening," replies George as continued to kiss her and get comfortable for a good night's... sleep.

Silver Moon

Chapter Nineteen, “Come Saturday Morning” September 2nd, 1882, 5:00 A.M.

An hour before dawn on Saturday, September 2nd, Alsoomse very quietly makes her way downstairs and outside. She waves to Obadhiah Kingsley, who is sitting on the front porch guarding with the patriarch of their faithful family of hound dogs. As she gets within fifty feet of her former lodge she attracts the attention of Maska. Alsoomse kneels down and the wolf comes over up to her. Alsoomse gently rubs the wolf's face and motions for the animal to accompany her. The two set off together in the direction of the Delroy-Kingsley home.

Like the elvan Alsoomse, Thomas arose early before dawn to perform his morning calisthenics and exercises, exiting the house wearing a plain black silk tunic and loose pants to match, covered by a linen robe dyed earthen-brown. With his staff in one hand, and his ancient, dog-eared copy of the Company of the Masters of the Science of Defense, he padded down to the riverbank.

Stripping down to just his pants, Thomas squatted by the river, closed his eyes, and took in several deep breaths to cleanse his lungs and clear his thoughts. He opened his eyes and looked out over the river, seeing the light wisps of fog rising from the still water, hearing the songs of the birds in the trees as they began to anticipate sunrise, and smelling the rich mixture of earth, water, and plant life. He mused to himself that northern Florida was not unlike his native Florida in many ways.

After a half-hour of meditation and contemplation, Thomas rose, stretched, and began to loosen his muscles for his patterned martial exercise. To any who had met Thomas for the first time in a parlor or social gathering, they would be astounded, possibly horrified, to see the transformation of the gentle, bookish, and gregarious half-ogre into a steely-eyed and disciplined killing machine.

With staff, arms, and legs whirling and spinning about in lethal but controlled frenzy, Thomas honed and practiced his martial arts skills. He followed a tradition of patterns of parries, attacks, and ripostes centuries old, established in the rolling hills of the countryside of central England by peasants who were forced to defend themselves against foes with armor, horses, and superior weaponry with nothing but fists, feet, and farming implements. It could be, at turns, a non-lethal form for the purpose of subjugating an enemy, or the deadly form for the quick and brutally efficient dispatching of a foe -- Thomas had lost count of the number of times (and foes) for which he had had to use both forms.

Thomas continued to practice until just after the sun rose, working himself up into a slather of clean sweat and hard muscle. He then leaned his staff against the tree, looked quickly about for the purposes of courtesy and decorum before stripping his pants off, and then dived into the bracing cold water of the river for a hard and vigorous swim twixt the riverbanks.

He came out of the water, donned tunic, pants, and robe, and took up his book and staff and walked back to the house. Seeing the house begin to stir with activity, he sat on the veranda and opened his book to read for a bit, allowing his body and mind to still from the adrenaline and endorphin flush. Thomas was prepared for what the day would bring, toned, content, and balanced in body, mind, and spirit.

George arose with the sun as he always did. He gently kissed Ruby before leaving to his own room to dress. He headed downstairs for a quick bite to eat of what ever he could find along with several large cups of black coffee. He too a cup up with him and left it in Ruby's room before heading to the photographic lab to make a thorough examination of what James had stocked and noting where he could put the things he had brought with him, things that could not be bought as of yet.

Lawrence wakes up with the sun. Once he gets up, he checks the upended chair that he put under the trap door before he turned in. Finding no one with a broken leg tangled up in it, he nods to himself. Lawrence washes his face in the wash basin before dressing casually. He heads downstairs for breakfast and grabs some breakfast. While eating, he idly doodles on a scrap of paper.

Fish wakes up early, as is his habit. He slept in his clothes, as he has only two sets. He retrieves his other shirt, and attempts to snap the wrinkles out. He is looking forward to the party trip to Jacksonville and the new duds he's been promised! He descends all three flights of stairs without letting his feet touching the floor, sliding down the banisters and walking on his hands when necessary. He darts into the kitchen, smears some marmalade on a hunk of bread, then grabs a piece of fruit and dashes out the door, mouth full. He finds a flat patch of ground to practice his tumbling, and then clambers up the nearest tree to practice his leaping and his balance tricks.

Roy woke up slowly and stretched long before getting out of bed. As he put on his clothes, something light since it was gonna be a hot day, his stomach reminded him that it was breakfast time. He slipped on some shoes and headed to the kitchen, hoping to get his favorite breakfast of ham, grits, coffee, and a little red-eye gravy.

Nanuet rested longer than usual for himself being worn from the journey. When he did awaken he was surprised to not feel Maska close by. "Suppose she's gone hunting" he said to himself as he approached the house. He nodded to Thomas on the porch before heading inside looking for something to eat for his morning meal.

Morning crept into Abigail's room, waking her slowly about an hour after dawn. She was in no hurry so puttered around her room in her dressing gown, beginning her unpacking and deciding how she wanted to arrange things. When her stomach began to complain she finally considered getting dressed. Instead of a skirt, she chose one of the many pairs of pants she'd brought. The style was a bit unusual as the legs were wide and flowing, but not so much as to be what was called a split skirt. They were just loose and comfortable despite being slim at the waist. After a few moments of consideration she slid her Colt Thunderer into the pocket she'd had sewn into her pants for it. Working in dangerous places Abby had learned to arm herself early on. She paired the pants with a simple blouse, pulled back just the front of her hair and headed down looking for something to eat.

Hardin sleeps better than he has in a long time, the comfort of the bed several notches above what he is used to. He still rises fairly early and dresses for comfort...pants, leather vest with sewn-in holsters and a comfortable shirt. He slides on a pair of leather bracers to keep the shirt sleeves from catching on anything unfortunate and slides downstairs to the kitchen with his smaller valise.

He rummages through the aftermath of the previous night's dinner, gathering tin cans and bottles before heading down to the water. He passes a dripping Thomas on the way and struggles to tip his hat with all that he is carrying.
"Doc. Care for a bit of sport?" Hardin flashes his lopsided grin, but doesn't linger for a reply. A few minutes later, startled flocks of waterfowl take to the air as the flat crack of Colt Lightenings and the throatier booms of Peacemakers rip through the still morning air. The bottles and cans don't stand a chance...

Ruby, having not been told it was necessary to rise early, slept in late, which was customary for her. She lazily enjoyed a cup of coffee that had been acquired by George as she readied for the day, dressing in a flowy peach skirt and light white blouse. It was the lightest clothing she had until she got some new sundresses more suited to the weather. She pulled the top of her hair back into a large clip and left the rest of her long bouncy red locks flowing down her back. She swept down into the kitchen just before lunch time, looking for something to eat, unsure if their meeting would include food or not.

Mina makes her way downstairs mid-morning. She tells those who are around that Luiz and James are continuing to confirm their theories and hope to have answers by the 1:00 PM meeting. She also says that Jemima and Antoinette will be delivering lunch at noon for the group, so that they can all get a good meal before the meeting.

After it was revealed that lunch would still be a while, Ruby went off in search of George. She knew just where to start looking, finding him just where she knew he would be, in the photography lab. She quietly came up behind him and reached her hands around his face, covering his eyes. "Guess who?" she purred into his ear, trying not to laugh.

George gasps in mock surprise "Abby? Ruby might catch us!" he says before turning to plant a kiss on Ruby. "So you did arise today, and obviously I need a new hiding place" he teases her. "I left you some coffee, but it was probably cold by the time you got up, sorry. Did you sleep well?" he asks with a smile and another kiss. Ruby pinched him then crossed her arms. "If you'd prefer to be with that skinny Abby girl... " she said, pretending to be offended as she turned her back to him, "Go ahead. I know she can't love you like I do."

George wrapped his arms around Ruby's shoulders and kissed her neck. "No, of course she couldn't. So have you had breakfast yet or are you waiting for lunch?" asks George without letting go of Ruby. "I just had that wonderful cup of coffee someone left me," Ruby said, not giving in just yet. "I'm starting to get hungry for lunch, yes. But I was hoping to find someone to go exploring with me until lunch is ready. Outside. Of course. Now that I know you are waiting for another girl, I guess I could go ask someone else to join me. I bet Roy would do it in a minute. Or maybe Ben..."

George snorted "You know those two could never keep up with you" he said "Nor would they bring you coffee. Or bourbon in the tub" he added with another kiss on the neck. Ruby giggled, "No, you're right. They'd be too dazzled by me being naked to get anything accomplished." She turned and took George's hands in hers and started pulling him towards the door. "Now come on, you owe me for teasing me, let's go for a walk before lunch. I reaalllyyyyyy want to... plus we should check on Nanuet and see how he fared last night in such a strange place."

George pulled back, stopping Ruby. He looked at her with a raised eyebrow for a minute before smiling "Alright my dear, I can finish the inventory later." says George as he puts a few things back where they belong and tucks his inventory list into his briefcase. He takes Ruby's hand and adds "It will be nice to see the grounds though it, they seem beautiful." She says, "Yes, they do. I want to go down by the river and check that out. I wonder if it is good for swimming..."

After Mina's message about lunchtime, Abby debated whether to spend the morning practicing with her blade or enjoying the warm sunshine in a rocker with her novel. For this morning she decided to be a bit lazy and go with the relaxing. She ran upstairs and got her book, then went out to the porch where Dr. Crane was sitting. "Beautiful morning," she said simply as she took a seat.

Roy made his way out to the porch. Once there, he took out his deck of cards and started shuffling them. "Care for a game, Abby?" She looked up from her book and took off her spectacles. "Sure, as long as it's a game I know." Roy looked up and waved. "Doing good. Just about to start up a game of cards. Care to join us?"

Meanwhile, Ruby grabbed George’s hand tightly now and pulled him out of the house. Happy and smiling she bounded out the front door, off the porch and down the front steps before she saw there was people there. "Good morning Thomas and Roy and Abby! How are you this lovely day?" Thomas replies, "Marvelous, marvelous! Going for a swim, I see. I think you will find the water bracing but refreshing."

"I would LOVE to play cards," Ruby grinned then glanced sideways at George. "However, exercise for the body is just as important as exercise for the mind," she winked at Roy. "Perhaps when I return from my walk I can jump into the game with you two. Right now, we're going exploring. Of course, you are welcome to join us also, if you please." Roy turned to Abby. "What do you think, Abs? You wanna walk or you wanna play cards?" Abby replies "Either is fine, but before you decide, I can guarantee that I'm not inclined to strip down and swim this morning." Roy says, "Hmmmm. You make it hard sometimes Abby.... and you're making it difficult for me to make a decision."

Thomas grins, and says under his breath to Abigail, "Keep a firm hold on your wallet or anything else important to you if you are engaging in a round of cards with Huggins." Abby replies to Roy’s previous question, "I never bet more than I'm willing to lose. And we'll see what Roy wants more, my money or my good will," she grinned quietly. Ruby took note of Thomas's comment to Abigail; it only made her more excited to see what Roy could do. "Well, I'm not planning on swimming today, though the weather is nice for it. I suppose I would need a suit." Her grin grew. "You know, to not embarrass you all. I will purchase one on our trip to the city. But I do want to see what it's like down there by the river. Thomas, I assume you've already been?"

Roy strokes his chin. "I think we'll just sit here and game, Ruby. Feel free to join us when you're done." "Have fun!" she chirped before pulling George off down the path her grandmother and James had taken yesterday on their bike ride. Ruby kept her eyes alert looking for Nanuet but was otherwise relaxed as they wandered together. "I wonder what else we will find out at this meeting today. I am glad it's not too far off, my curiosity is killing me."

Once Ruby and George leave, Roy will turn back to Abby. "So you care to make this interesting?" Abby says, "Oh, I'm sure it's already going to be very interesting," she answered innocently. "But I'm willing to consider your proposal." Roy replies, "Weeeeellllll.... I've always liked poker, draw or stud, so I'd be willing to give it a shot. Unfortunately, I seem to have left my wallet upstairs. Luckily, though, I didn't forget my clothes, which I'd be more than willing to wager. How about you?" he says with a sly grin.

Abby says, "Wish I'd laid bets on what you were going to want to wager; I'd be richer now. Roy, I'm as good a sport as anyone but I really don't want to be down to my skivvies this morning." Roy "pouts." "I guess that's ok. How about a nice game of gin, then?" Roy deals the cards. Abby says, "If it makes you feel better, I'm not much of a card player and I'm quite likely to lose. A lot. So if you can ever convince me of that wager it'll probably be worth your time." Roy just smiles and continues to play gin.

Hardin passes George and Ruby, tipping his bowler while wiping some powder residue from his hands and face with a kerchief. "Ms. Ruby, George, how are you today? Anything of interest afoot?" Ruby gave him a little curtsy. "I'm fabulous! And you?" She looked him up and down. "You look like you've been busy already this morning, I imagine you've been practicing with those quick guns of yours? As for us, we're just taking a nice walk over to the river, nothing of interest to report yet. However, I am dying to know what we're going to find out at today's meeting. You are already set to sign up?" George says, "Doing well, thank you for asking. We are out for a stroll before lunch. Off to see the grounds and enjoy the Floridian sunshine." replies George as he shakes Hardin's hand.

At 11:30 AM Alsoomse and Antoinette come walking up the road towards the house. Both are wearing almost-matching sundresses, Alsoomse's being white with a blue floral design and Antoinette's being white with a red floral design. Both dresses highlight their hourglass figures. Antoinette is carrying two large baskets that are covered over with cloth but from the smell are clearly fresh baked rolls for lunch. Alsoomse is carrying a box, the contents of which can also be identified from the smell, as hot apple pies. They are accompanied by Nanuet's wolf Maska, whose fur looks to be freshly bathed and neatly brushed out.

Fish returns. He finds he feels a little like a hayseed. Or a dirty carnie. He's dusty from his play this morning -- and there's a new tear in his shirt over his left shoulder. Ruby steps off the porch as he arrives. She looks stunning, as always. Her paramour looked as though he needed more sun, but his tie was tied ever-so-elegantly. Thomas was dressed plainly, but the threads he wore were well-spun and cut for movement. Roy looked a little pimp (no surprise there! where'd he buy such beautiful silk?). Abigail? Ben didn't want to think too hard about what she was wearing. Hardin? He wore his bowler with style. Cantrell? Well...he for one looks as though he slept in those clothes. Alsoomse and Antoinette? Best not think too hard about what they're wearing either, in their matching thin cotton sun dresses...

Nanuet had missed most of the activity on the porch as he had been inside foraging for food. He emerges from the house, bread crumbs on his clothing and a hint of jam still stuck to the corner of his mouth. "Good morning everybody!" he says enthusiastically through a mouthful of food. He smiles at the ladies carrying the baskets and offers his assistance. "So you were off gathering food this morning girl" he says to Maska with a grin "good job girl, good job!"

The wolf communicates back to Nanuet through their telepathic link that he didn't have to hunt food, the girls fed her. Maska says that she had a very nice swim and the girls then brushed her out. Nanuet gets the impression that Maska enjoyed the personal attention. Nanuet tells her, "Yes, I can smell the food girl, that is why I said gathered rather than hunted. I think we're going to like staying here."

At around a quarter until noon the Delroy-Kingsley family are heading up the walkway with the mule cart. As they arrive Jemima hands Obie, Enoch and Jasper each a large metal container with a lid which they bring inside to the kitchen. Jemima then ties up the mule to the front rail post and heads inside carrying a ceramic crock.

George and Ruby took their time walking, strolling along the bike path and out to the river. They chatted some more about their future together, this new adventure putting a lot of their future plans into the spotlight. They basked in the sun next to the river for a while before Ruby's belly rumbled and they head back to the house for lunch. They arrived just as lunch showed up so they skipped the card game and went into the dining room to enjoy it while it was hot, the meeting soon to follow.

Silver Moon

Chapter Twenty, “The Slaves of Atlantis” September 2nd, 1882, 5:00 A.M.

Just before noon a pair of riders head up the walkway towards the house. One is a human male who appears to be in his seventies or eighties. He is tall and thin, with long white hair tied in the back in a ponytail. He is clean shaven except for a thin white mustache and wearing a dark brown suit that falls a little loose on his frame. He has on a white cotton shirt with a brown and gold patterned bow tie. His hat is a somewhat dilapidated pre-Civil War United States Army cap. Well-worn but recently polished shoes are on his feet. Pinned to the lapel of his suit coat is a medal, which many of those assembled recognize as the Congressional Medal of Honor. His horse’s saddle has United States markings that indicate it was originally made for military use. A walking cane sits in the saddle’s rife holster. And lastly, a multi-colored parrot is perched upon his right shoulder.

His companion is a blonde-haired half-elvan female who is the human equivalent of early-to-mid twenties. She is attired in a white floral print sundress that is identical in style to those currently worn by Alsoomse and Antoinette, although the flowers on her dress are a bright yellow. While she doesn’t have same voluptuous figure or captivating beauty as the other two similarly-attired women, nobody would ever consider her to be unattractive, with a trim physique, sparkling light blue eyes and a pleasant smile.

She quickly dismounts and secures both of their horses to the front railing. She then helps the older man down from his horse and hands him his cane. They walk together towards the front porch, him using the cane in his right hand and her supporting him on the left. As the reach the lobby Alsoomse comes out to greet them, kissing the man on the right cheek. She says to the others, “Our dinner guests are all here now. Everybody, I would like to introduce you to our nearest neighbors, Sergeant Alan McKinnon and his granddaughter-in-law Autumn McKinnon. They live along the river just west of the Timucuan Conservancy. Alan’s other companion will make his own introduction.” On cue the parrot exclaims, “Walter says Hello, Walter says Hello.”

They enter the dining room, with Alsoomse removing Walter from Alan’s shoulder and places the bird atop a wooden hat rack that had been brought into the room and placed near one of the china cabinets on the south wall.
James says, “Please feel free to sit wherever you would like, there is no assigned seating with this meal.” Autumn helps Alan over to a chair at the table with James, Mina and Luiz, but doesn’t take a seat there herself, leaving the other three seats at that table open. Jasper, Obadiah and Jemima, sit at a table with Alsoomse and Sol, leaving two seats open at that table. Autumn joins the two younger members of the Delroy-Kingsley clan, Antoinette and Enoch, leaving the other four seats open at that table.

Ruby and George take a seat with Autumn, Antoinette and Enoch where she introduces herself and George to the newcomer and the others she didn't really get to speak with the night before. "It's a pleasure to meet you Autumn, do you come here often to visit?" She replies, "We visit around once a week, James and Grandfather have become close friends. They spend most of the time swapping war stories. We don't get out that much any more, Grandfather has become quite frail. But I manage to see Alsoomse every day at dawn, as she and Antoinette join me for a bath and swim in the river. Jemima used to join us too, but the new house has an indoor tub, so she says that her river days are over."

Ruby answers, "I can't say I blame her, I prefer the tub too. Though a dip in the river does sound very refreshing, perhaps I'll have to join you one day, if you don't mind.” Autumn says, "Sure, you're perfectly welcome too. Alsoomse used to bring the teenage girls who were here with her this last summer. Today your furry friend Maska joined us, she seemed to enjoy the swim a great deal. She's a beautiful animal." Ruby says, "Isn't she? Nanuet takes wonderful care of her and she has saved our butts many, many, many times, thankfully. Perhaps soon I'll join you then and bring her with me."

Ruby says, “Seems like you ladies are all very close around here. I miss my best friend, I haven't seen her in a very long time. Men are nice but it's not the same relationship as the girls have, you know?" Ruby smiled and patted George's hand. "And I DO need to get some of those dresses you all have, you look fabulous." Autumn says, "That should be easy enough to do, Jemima has a full bolt of the white cloth and the stencil pattern for the flowers. You just have to add the dye of whatever color you want."

Once people are seated Jemima and Antoinette bring out the food which is placed upon each of the tables. It consists of broiled fish with a white sauce topping that has oranges and lemons in it; two separate rice dishes, a white rice and a Cajun rice; a mixed vegetable dish comprised of black-eye peas, green beans and pearl onions in a butter sauce; and hot wheat rolls. A hot apple pie is placed in the center of each table for desert. As was done at the meal before, prayers are said by worshipers present to each deity worshiped by those at the table with Alan McKinnon saying the prayer to the Greek and Roman gods.

Nanuet, always looking for more food finds a seat at the table where Alsoomse and Sol are sitting. He introduces himself to the newcomers at the table and with a disregard for manners begins shoveling food in is face. "Wow, this is really good, I am definitely going to like it here!" he says smiling with a mouth full of food.

Lawrence takes a leisurely walk on the grounds. He enjoys the warm Florida sun on his face as he goes. He hears the lunch bell and slowly makes his way back to the house. "Smells good." Ruby called out in a louder voice, "Lunch is wonderful again, thank you Ladies!" She ate heartily as she always did, no one knew where all those calories went, but Ruby always seemed to be eating or drinking something. "I'm going to get so fat if all the food is like this everyday," she laughed. "Then how can I perform up on stage? Or fit into the lovely sundress Jemima will make me?" She finished off her pie with a flourish. "Seems worth it to me either way."

Antoinette tells Ruby, "You're welcome. You can thank Autumn too, she's the one who caught all the fish that we're eating." Autumn says, "Grandfather should get more of the credit than myself. He's the lifelong fisherman who taught me all the tricks to trade, I mearly do as I've been instructed. Plus Jemima is the one who cleaned and cooked them, that's the part of fishing I can do without." Ruby exclaims, "Ugh, well, I for one am glad you are here to do it because that just grosses me out! I'll eat it but I'm not touching it otherwise," she laughed at how silly that sounded.

She finished her last bite of lunch then stood and stretched. "Thanks again for lunch. And now, upstairs I think we're meeting?" As the meal comes to a close and the last of the apple pies are devoured the McKinnons depart. Luiz and Alsoomse both head upstairs to prepare for the meeting. Jemima, Antoinette and Enoch clear the tables and wash the dishes. Given the interruption the previous day Sol asks Obie and Jasper to stay and keep an eye on things from the lobby and front porch while the meeting is going on. James announces to the others that the meeting will start in ten minutes.

After lunch, Lawrence thanks Alsoomse and Antoinette for the delicious pies they made. He sits on the porch and smokes a cigar as he muses, "Those McKinnons are mighty interesting." After the meal and general conversation, Thomas returned to his room to change from his exercise clothing back into his regular attire.

As people enter the library and conference room they immediatley notice the room’s temperature is cooler than the rest of the house, being a very comfortable seventy degrees. There are six wooden easels set up inside the room, one a few feet back from each corner of the long table. On the table are a bowl of fresh fruit, a bowl of dried fruit, two bowls with mixed nuts, a bowl with peppermint, butterscotch and other hard candies, and two bowls with chocolate candies.

James Parker is standing at the head of the table and placed before him is the same decanter with the magical elixir that he had set on the table the previous day. Alsoomse has changed out of her colorful sundress and is now attired in into a gray skirt with matching suit jacket over a white blouse. Luiz stands over at the well-stocked bar and invites each person to get a beverage.

Thomas headed back downstairs and into the library and conference center, nodding to Parker, and takes a seat (whatever seat Parker indicates, or the closest to the head of the table. He reaches for two apples from the fresh fruit bowl, and begins to eat one as everyone else gathers.

Nanuet helped with whatever cleanup he could before he was shooed away. He headed upstairs, his belly full, eager to get more information about the mission they were about to undertake. Nanuet entered the room and took a seat near the back and quietly waited for the meeting to start.

As Ruby entered the room she began to head to the bar for an iced tea but instead veered off sharply as she spotted the chocolate. She happily grabbed a few pieces before getting her and George an iced tea then finding George who was already sitting. She was certain he chose those exact seats for some purpose, where the sun was positioned, or the angle at which he could see the front of the room but Ruby had no such concern, she just plopped down next to him. "Chocolate?" she offered him one while they waited for the meeting to begin. George reached for a peppermint, popping one in his mouth. He smiled at Ruby as she sat next to him. He pulled out his notebook, and waited for the meeting, taking Ruby's hand into his own as he waited.

"My goodness," Ruby said out loud to no one in particular, "It is so cool in here, what's making it so cold?" Alsoomse replies, "That would be me. The spell will only last for around forty-five minutes, but it should stay relatively cool thereafter with the room closed up. I figured that we might as well all be comfortable." Ruby blinked at her a few times then smiled. She should have realized that everyone here each had a very special set of skills. "Well, I for one am thankful, it's nice to have it be a little cooler, it has been so hot and humid! It's hot where I come from too but not like this. Do we think this meeting will be longer than 45 minutes anyway?"

Alsoomse replies, "It could be, I've admonished James for being far to circumspect with all of you about the details. I have always taught him to be cautious, but some things should have been told to you from the onset. For example, if Roy and Abigail had known about the secret staircase passage or trapdoors in each room that intruder might have been captured rather than escaping. I blame that on James being too secretive. And while I understand his wanting to be totally sure of his theories before sharing them he was at least ninety-five-percent confident of his conclusions before now. So he has agreed that the meeting will last until he has satisfied all of you with the answers to whatever questions that you have for him.”

The others make their way into the room and to seats around the table. Sol is the last person to enter the room. He takes out a key and locks the door behind him. Looking at James he says, “The upper floors are all now secure. Jasper and Obie will stay on guard downstairs and outside.” Luiz tells those present, “This room has a number of special magical protections, so once sealed it is impossible for anybody to eavesdrop on our conversations.”

Once everybody is seated with their beverages James stands and begins, “Yesterday I outlined some of what this is all about. Today we will in the detail and answer any and all of your questions. Please feel free to voice your thoughts as they occur, as what we have to say is rather lengthy and I wouldn’t want you to forget to ask something of potential importance.

At the conclusion of this meeting I will again ask each of you to decide whether you wish for your role here to be as a full employee or as an occasional consultant. If you decide the latter option I require you to consume a quantity of the Elixir of Forgetfulness so that the details of this meeting will remain solely with those who are fully committed to this venture.

Ruby squeezed George's hand. She was glad he got to think things though the way he needed to the night before. Now both of them would be able to move forward without any reservations in their heart. "Let's get started! You know how impatient I am and the waiting is killing me," she teased before taking another bite of chocolate. The truth was, she was loving all this, the feeling of something much bigger than any of them.

James says, “Luiz, since it was you who initiated this effort why don’t you begin?” Doctor Chernovitz says, “This all started with an mystery that has been bothering me for decades. Over twenty years ago I was reading a rare medical book that was written by a French physician in the early 1700’s. The doctor mentioned a rather effective herbal medicinal remedy passed down through his family to cure a type of severe fever while in temperate climates. As I was living in Brazil at the time and participating in exploration of the Amazon River I found this cure to be of special importance. The remedy worked well.

One curiosity thought was a footnote on that page which said that this cure was first used by the author’s great grandfather, who had served as the physician at Fort Caroline, and that the cure was learned from the ‘Slaves of Atlantis’. There were no further references in that volume to the Atlantians and so I decided to further research this Fort Caroline. What I discovered was that the French government officially denied that any French fortress named Fort Caroline ever existed. They suggested that any fort by that name must have been by another nation.

So I checked with other governments, sending letters to their various diplomatic offices and repositories of history. The replies indicated there was no evidence of there ever being a fortress by that name. However, the letter that I received from the Spanish government not only denied a fortress by that name, it strongly suggested that I abandon this line of research, with an implied threat if I continued to pursue it. They obviously didn’t know me, as their threat had the opposite effect for me, providing he impetus for me to investigate further.

Since my main clue was the French physician I returned to France, where two of my children were living at the time. I spent weeks looking through records, and I couldn’t find any birth records, marriage records or medical school transcripts for the author’s ancestor. I did uncover evidence through tax records of that doctor first appearing in France as an educated adult with a family in the late 1560’s. The official explanation was for no other records was that the man may have immigrated to France from a neighboring country and the paperwork recording that was lost. So at the time I considered that to be a possible explanation.

At the time I had no other leads, and the United States then began its Civil War with significant impacts upon both of my adopted countries of France and Brazil, some more pressing matters rose to the top of my agenda. But I never forgot about that reference to the ‘Slaves of Atlantis’. Ruby says, "The myths and stories of Atlantis... they include a lot of magic related curiosities, don't they? And that is why everyone would be interested in finding it and if they DID find it, they would want to keep that a secret?"

James states, “Most references to Atlantis are from the writings of the Greek philosopher Homer. His known works are The Iliad and The Odyssey. Regarding Atlantis itself, in The Iliad he describes the Atlantian people as a race of tall humans, averaging from six to seven feet in height, and tells of the island nation’s destruction. A third volume by Homer concerns Atlantis itself. That volume is banned in all anti-wizard magic nations as it contains a vast number of arcane spells and that book serves as the basis for the study of wizard magic. But that volume is more than just a spell book, it contains details about the people of Atlantis. And it makes several references to a term that has been commonly mistranslated into western languages as the word ‘Slaves’."

Ruby asks, "Oh, what is the word, actually, if it isn't slaves? Do we happen to have a copy of this elusive book? I'm not a great reader but I'd like love to get a little peek at one. For curiosity's sake, of course." James says, "Yes, we have a copy of the book, but unless you are versed in Ancient Greek and Ancient Atlantian I doubt that you could read it. As to the translation of that word, I’ll let our linguistic expert explain further.”

Alsoomse says, “Unlike the Iliad and The Odyssey, which were written in Ancient Greek, his volume about the Atlantians is a mix of Ancient Greek interspersed with words from the ancient language of the Atlantians themselves. Much of this language is the basis for magical writings. The reference to slaves is the Atlantian word and not the Greek. The exact translation of this word is not ‘Slave’ but the phrase is ‘Lifelong Servant’.

Western scholars deemed that close enough, since in Western cultures a slave’s period of servitude lasted for their entire life. But the few scholars who have studied remnants of other writings credited to the Atlantians, which better explain the master-slave relationship.

The arrangement was unlike slavery, as we know it; the relationship was not ownership but rather long-term employment. And the period of servitude was linked to the life of the master and not that of servant. This bond of servitude only began when an adult Altantian became married, at which time the servant’s family would then receiving the first of what would be annual payments.”

James continues stating, “In effect, these were indentured servants who came into a contractual form of employment when an Atlantian had reached adulthood and wed. The personal servant in effect being a life-long wedding present to the individual. These servants would each serve only one specific individual, not their spouse or family, and only until the Atlantian died. At that point the contract would cease, and the servant would then return to his or her own distant homeland. In return, Atlantis would annually provide the families of the servants with food and medicines for the duration of the servitude contract. Nothing specific is noted about these servants other than that they were from a very distant land. We can also assume from these writings that the servant’s life spans generally exceed that of the Atlantian."

Alsoomse says, "Yes, when a human Atlantian is married they would then get their own personal servant of the servant race." James says, "Our theory and mine is that it was the Timucuan elves that were the servants of the Atlantians. Furthermore, we believe the Timucuan weren’t elves, that their race was one of half-elves, being of both Elvan and Human Atlantian descent. This theory would account for their taller height and also their shorter life spans than other North American elvan tribes.” "Ohh," Ruby said. "That makes more sense.”

Alsoomse states, “It is also a linguistically sound theory, as the Timucuan language has no common elements with any other North American languages, but it has many similarities in sentence structure and grammar to the Atlantian language. It also bears some similarities with remote languages from other continents. We have also uncovered evidence that the Timucuan used wizard magics, something that with the exception of a few common low-level spells used by bards, no other Native American Elvan tribes historically did. .

Regarding the Saturiwa tribe that lived here in this area, membership in this tribe was not entirely hereditary, as were the other eleven tribes of the Timucuan. Many of the Saturiwa were born from the other tribes and then brought as infants to this tribe to be raised. The name of Saturiwa actually translates as the phrase ‘Master-like’.
So we believe that Saturiwa were those born to the various Timucuan groups who showed more of the human than elvan characteristics. By concentrating those genetic tendencies here, the offspring would more closely resemble the Atlantian humans, and therefore be more visually pleasing to the Atlantians who they served. That would also explain why the Timucuan people as a whole remained in self-isolation from other elvan tribes, not wanting their bloodlines to be diluted with those who clearly had no Atlantian genetics.”

Ruby asks, "Why would their looks matter to their Atlantian masters? And people from Atlantis, they are supposedly... human? And, are there still Atlantian people alive maybe? Where might they live, if there are? What does that all have to do with that rock that came up out of the ocean? I mean, sure, the sea spirit might have been keeping it down under the water but why?" Ruby blinked at the lecturers a few times then took in a deep breath of air, needed after all her question asking.

Luiz states, "We don't have answers to those questions. Finding the answers to those questions is what this is about. If we are successful I hope to walk the streets of Atlantis within the next year or two. We believe that our theory about the Timucuan is the first step to accomplishing this."
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