AGELESS Campaign Episode 2 - Temple of the Cat-Goddess

Silver Moon

Chapter 132, "The Escape", September 13, 1882, 10:30 PM.

Callum says to Fauccault "I beg of you sir, do not do this. Be thankful for the extra decades that you have already received and let this object go." Abby adds, "Monsieur Fouccault, I have found a frightening capacity for violence within myself over the last week." "You certainly have," Gerome interjects as he rubs his cast and sling. She snaps at Gerome "I gave you a scratch that quit bleeding in seconds. Did you go find someone to break that for you? After you woke from your fainting spell, that is? The punch to the nose did more damage, but of course, to play THAT up you'd have to put a big, ugly bandage on your pretty face."

Abby continues her conversation with Fauccalut, "Only an absolute line in the sand, that I would not kill another except as an absolute last resort, has kept it in check. Jean-Leon there is a beneficiary of that. We all know it's true. Once you allow yourself to do something a first time, it is far easier to do it a second." Fouccault says, "I assure you that you two will not be harmed. If you have concerns about Jean Gerome or Marcel Pharquare watching over you I can arrange for other guards. Getting the object sooner than later will be a top priority, so your stay in our company will be of short duration.

Abby says, "The only thing you're right about is that any stay in your company will be of an excessively short duration." Abby notices an odd movement from Callum, him turning his head slightly and a very faint smile crossing over his face before resuming his stoic expression. Callum exclaims, "Okay, I believe you Mr. Fouccault, and if you ensure that neither of these two will be our guards than I will have to agree to your terms. Once we reach our destination I will tell you all that I know about the Egyptian vault.

And I thank you for the cognac. After cognac I always enjoy a nice cigar. And this may be the last time I may have an opportunity to do so in the next week or two while we are in your company. So I will do so now." Callum slowly and carefully removes the cigar case and selects the cigar with the blue band. "Is this what I have to look forward to? A life filled with cigar smoke?" Abby sighed just a bit dramatically. "Need a match, darling?" she added, picking up a box of matches from the sideboard of the well-appointed carriage. She remains uninterrupted as she lights the cigar.

He takes a few puffs, leaning his head back and them forward again. He removes the cigar from his mouth and blows smoke out. He then says, "It isn't so bad my dear. Have you never tried a cigar? It's just like those little cigarettes of yours, only better. Here, have a puff." He holds it out to her. Abby shrugged and took the cigar from him. She had never smoked anything in her life, but of course her father and his friends, and her Uncles had smoked pipes and cigars almost constantly. It wasn't as if she'd never been exposed to it before.

"Smells like my Father's," she said, quite honestly, before she put the end in her mouth to pull in some of the smoke. And as she does this, there is no smoke, only the trickle of liquid onto her tongue. As she raises her head up the liquid continues to flow into her mouth and down her throat. As she exhales, smoke pours from her mouth, despite the fact that none had gone in. She kept her expression under control and ruthlessly resisted the urge to fake a cough. "Not quite like a cigarette, dear."

He takes back the cigar and says, "Give it a few minutes, it will grow on you." It occurs to Abby that when Callum had magically disguised the elixir vials as cigars that he had not explained to her what the specific potions were, so she has no idea of exactly what to expect to happen. One thing that does happen is that a small trap door in the carriage roof above where Fouccault is seated opens and a man yells down from above. "There is a carriage chasing us." Fouccault says, "Well, then go faster", Fouccault yells up. "We have sir, it is still gaining," is the reply.

She looked over to Cal. "Well, I don't know what that could be," she then turned to look at Fauccault, "But I did warn you." Callum shifts the cigar to his other hand and then holds Abby's hand. The voice above says, "It's getting closer." Andre goes to move the curtain until Gerome yells "Keep it shut, do you want to give them targets." Fauccault looks squarely at Callum and says, "Mr. Stuart, who are they?"

Callum replies, "How should I know? I've been riding with you this whole time with the curtains drawn. My best guess would be that is is my friend, the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia. We were together at the concert. He must have witnessed the abduction and is trying to rescue me. Russian noblemen tend to be very direct. If it is him then I would strongly advise against shooting at them. Vladimir's brother is the Tsar. If your wizarding group kills yet another foreign leader I suspect that the French Ruling Council will throw you all in prison, if they don't execute you outright."

Gerome snaps, "The wizarding group no longer exists, Victor Duruy and the Empress disbanded it earlier today." Callum answers "And do you think that technicality will matter to anybody if you kill a high ranking member of the Russian Royal Family?" Abby made sure she had a tight hold on Callum's hand. She suspected something like a feather fall, a jump, or a levitate, but was prepared even for something like a Fly spell. She says, "Gerome, once again your courage is astounding. I can smell your desperation from here. And since your group is disbanded you have not even a shadow of a right to pursue that artifact. What kind of sentences are handed out the abduction of foreign nationals in Paris?"

The man above calls down, "They're almost upon us. Should I shoot at the driver?" Fouccault calls up "Gods no, a crash at this speed would kill everybody inside it. Just try to get away from it." As Callum lets out a slight cough Abby then hears the sound of the horseshoes striking the ground from the pursing carriage. They are indeed close. The sounds then move even closer and more to the right. She then feels Callum's pulse where their wrists touch as his heart is now beating faster. A moment later a short sharp pain emits from her stomach, feeling a bit like indigestion.

She hadn't noticed the carriage going particularly fast during their ride, but with eight horses, and it having been Daguerre's, of course it must be moving magically faster as well. What must their pursuers be using to be able to overtake them? Abby covered her mouth with her hand. "Cigars don't seem to agree with me," she said. Her whole body was screaming at her to take action, but without knowing what the potion was doing, or what Cal planned, she had to wait for his cue. Which she suspected was the other carriage pulling alongside.

Abby's stomach pain ends but she then feels a short searing heat in her lungs, similar to how one feels after a long period of physical exertion, which causes her to cough. The pain ends only to be replaced by the racing of her heart. The physical feelings inside her body are also moving in the opposite direction, as she now experiences a slight bit of sensation in her nether regions. The sound of the other carriage's hoof beats do indeed confirm that it is now moving up alongside the one they are riding in. She also notes in her peripheral vision that Callum casually removes the magical cigar band from the cigar in his hand, with it transforming back into the glass vial and the illusion of the smoke no longer coming from it.

The sound of both carriages racing was making enough noise that Abby could pitch her voice so only Cal could hear. She very purposely did not look toward him while she spoke softly, "What have you done to me?" He softly whispers back "Think floor solid, door not." As the tingling sensation now enters her arms and legs she looks at him and can now start to see that he is becoming translucent, as she can start to new see through him to Andre seating on the opposite side of Callum. The sounds from the other carriage on the door-side of the one they are in has the other occupants distracted and none notice the ongoing change in Callum.

The voice above yells down, "They're trying to pass us." "Don't let them cut us off," Gerome yells back up. The tingling sensation now moves to Abby's hands and feet and her reflex action is to momentarily release the hand he is holding but she resists the urge. Abby held on even tighter, perhaps they would both not be solid soon, but they were the same. And two people who are the same can hold on to each other. "Almost there," she whispered. "Ready?"

"Not yet," Callum whispers back. Abby now feels the sensation run up her neck and then both her mouth and nose feel temporarily warm, similar to after one tastes something spicy. Next her eyes itch and then sound becomes momentarily muffled. All of those senses then return to normal as she then experiences a momentary sharp pain in her head, similar to a headache, which also quickly passes. She appears to still be solid although Callum had become even more translucent, almost as though he was made of glass.

The carriage takes a sharp turn to the left as the driver yells out "He's trying to ram us." "Ram us? What is going on out there?" she still whispered, as the last thing they wanted was attention drawn toward the two of them as they disappeared. Abby sees that Callum's transformation appears to have ended, with him still translucent rather than invisible. She notices that she is also now just beginning to turn clear. Gerome is the first inside the carriage to notice something is happening and yells, "Hey, that Scots guy is clear". The others look towards him and Marcel fires his gun into Callum's torso. The first two bullets sail right through him and into the leather bench seat while the carriage become smokier due tot he gun discharge. Callum begins to rise to his feet and move forward, still holding onto Abby's hand.

Even though she knew those bullets couldn't hurt him, her heart still skipped when the gun went off. She held the idea firm in her mind that the only things that were solid to her were those she wished to be. These men could not harm her. And she was collected enough to know that her urge to hurt them was not worth acting on. When Cal moved forward she went with him, trusting he wouldn't have started if she wasn't ready to go, too.

Charging directly towards Marcel, the Frenchman fires two more shots. These are more angled and while both pass harmlessly through Callum, one continues its path and strikes the shooter's cousin Andre in the arm. Callum releases the empty glass vial he is holding which materializes back into solid form after leaving his hand, landing in Fouccault's lap. The French wizard momentarily glances down at the object.

"The woman's changing too," Gerome yells. Marcel shifts the gun and fires the final two bullets in the revolver. Callum jerks her towards the door and the first bullet barely misses, but Marcel corrects his aim with the second which strikes her in the abdomen. By this point in time she was nearly as translucent as Callum, but she still feels the bullet both entering and exiting her body, with a sharp pain not unlike that of a hornet or wasp sting. "It's nothing, go!" she said urgently, catching up with Cal and moving toward the door with him. "Gerome will be bragging about how he mortally wounded me tomorrow, the gutless coward."

Callum nods but maintains eye contact with Fouccault. "Make it right," Callum states. Fouccault pauses then gives a slight nod to the affirmative. Callum then turns towards the door, pulling Abby behind him. While in front of the door he bends slightly and pushes himself off the floor, leaping into the side wall. 'Questions later, escape now,' she thought to herself. She copied Cal's movement, remembering the floor was solid, but she could pass through whatever she wished to, and tried to prepare herself for what she'd see outside.

Still holding Callum's hand, she passes through the wall behind him. Based upon speed gauged from prior train travels it appears that they are travelling at close to sixty-miles per hour, faster than the quickest race horse ever ran. They are leaping towards the other carriage running alongside but it is too far away, and they start to fall. But Callum manages to maneuver in the air and get his arm and leg to pass through the closed doorway of the opposite carriage, while still holding onto Abby's hand with the other arm.

He swings his second leg up and inside next, as Abby now grabs his hand with both of hers. Thankfully gravity no longer seems to be a factor so the weight of the rest of her body is not dragging her down. She dares not look down either, as from looking up at the carriage from where she is, it is certain that from the waist down she is currently underground.

Abby wasn't quite imaginative enough to defy gravity, but if she could pass through the wall of a coach, she could pass through the ground. As long as she didn't look. The power of disbelief might not be able to quite manage that. As long as she was practicing her believing, she also believed that her still tender arms weren't going to scream at her after this was all over. She began to pull herself up Cal's arm as if it were a rope. She then used it to swing slightly, until she couldt shove her foot through the side of the carriage and onto the floor.

With Callum's assistance they are soon inside. She quickly notices that they are not surrounded by Russians but are instead inside of the Stuart family's coach. Still on the floor of the coach he tells her "Keep thinking of the floor as solid, I need to release your hand." "Of course it's solid, it's a floor," she muttered to herself. Callum lets her go and then climbs up onto the coach's seat and sticks his head through the roof. She hears him say "Driver, disable that other carriage, non-lethally if at all possible, and then turn us around." He then floats back down into the seat and walks out of it into the center floor. Once Cal returned, she asked, "How long until we're solid again?" He replies, "A half-hour, give or take ten minutes since I'm not sure if the dosage we each took was exactly half."

Unlike the carriage they just left, this one does not have the window curtains drawn. They hear a gunshot from above, which sounds surprisingly like an old-style flintlock pistol rather than a more modern revolver. An explosion follows, with the right rear wheel of the other carriage erupting in flames. The wheel disintegrates and the axle strikes the ground, but the driver is able to slow fast enough and turn in the direction of the fallen axle to prevent the carriage from overturning. Their own carriage then makes a wide turn and heads back in the direction they had traveled from at top speed. Callum sticks his head out through the door and yells up "The Hotel de Vendome, quickest speed possible until we reach traffic."

Abby says, "At first I thought you must have called the carriage somehow, but the Grand Duke seemed more plausible." Callum says, "Better than plausible, they would not have hesitated to attack this carriage. And when they see tomorrow's newspapers of the Grand Duke hugging me that will only confirm for them that is was he who mounted the rescue. While I was ninety-nine percent certain that it was my own carriage, that the driver had witnessed the abduction and followed, I didn't know for certain so was not lying to Fouccault. It was unlikely that he had any magic that could detect lies, but you never know, and I needed to establish trust with him at that point."

She began to consider the seat as part of the floor and therefore solid, then sat down. "Glad you picked up my cue there, not that it was subtle. We've never had a need to try to signal each other before. We may need to work on that. And that Marcel is lucky we didn't have to fight our way out. I almost went after him a couple times even before that. So, what's at the Hotel de Vendome?" He replies, "That is where The Empress and her new husband Victor Duruy are staying. It is a five-star hotel that had been originally designed as a massive six-story townhouse 160 years ago. It is near the Louvre. Earlier I had found out where they were staying so that we could avoid them, but after what just happened I think that it is imperative that you inform them of what their former associates are doing."

Abby says, "Then we'd better get our story straight. For example, why am I still here instead of on my way back to Egypt? A minor problem with the dirigible causing the need to come back for a repair makes sense there. You and I have known each other for years now, so it would make sense that I'd come to you for help. I doubt they'd recognize you as the pilot. I hate to lie, but I do need to be prepared should they ask." He says, "Actually, I was thinking that only you should see them. Then we don't have to worry about the dirigible and them thinking it is still here. As for a story, just tell them the truth. You returned to Paris to attend the Jacques Offenbach concert with a dear friend. While you meet with them I will get us some food and also dispatch another telegram to Queen Neferka."

She took a deep breath. "Is this going to be a problem when we solidify again?" she asked, indicating the gunshot wound. He answers, "Not particularly. The way the potion works is that it starts from the inside and works out, as I am sure you discovered. The epidermis is the very last thing to change, so the bullet would have traveled harmlessly through your interior and not damaged anything except for the outer skin and your dress over it. I suspect that they had magical ammunition in that gun, as you were phased enough that a normal bullet should have still passed through harmlessly." He gestures to one of the benches and says, "There are hidden compartments under the seats. The center one here contains a doctor's bag which has a magical salve. Whichever one of us solidifies first can retrieve it, to seal over the skin breaks." She says, “Yes, it would be a bad idea to let infection set in."

Abby continues, "Are you asking me to keep your name completely out of this? It makes sense not to let them see you until the memory of the dirigible pilot fades in their minds, but the fact that you were in Egypt is well-established through Mr. Stevenson’s story. And of course, if they question Fouccault he will mention your involvement. He says, "You do not need to keep my name out, just don't reference anything about me after the palace was attacked in Cairo, as that is when Gerome thinks I came back here. Don't lie, just don't elaborate. And you can and should reference me by name about being your date to the concert and the subsequent attack."

She asks, "By the way, what did you mean when you told Fauccault to make it right?” He answers, "I was concluding our earlier conversation, about him letting us go. He had the power to stop us, with a Dispel Magic spell. And if he cast that spell while we were phasing through the carriage wall it would have killed us. So by giving him the vial and stating that to him I was telling him exactly how I had done what I did, and asking him for permission for us to leave. He granted it and made no attempt to stop us. And the secondary purpose of the 'make it right' wording was for him to reconsider trying to obtain the artifact. You made some valid points to him regarding that."

She replies, "Darling, that was the last time I saw you until you showed up in the Legionnaire's uniform. I don't see any reason we'd need to get into that. They felt I might know where the artifact is now, and that you might know how to get to it, as you managed to get access to the Queen's magic carpet." Abby was quiet for a moment. "What I said to Foccault I meant. I'm frightened by how quickly, when I'm in a fight or flee situation, I'm primed to fight. So far I've managed to keep my head and not kill anyone, or not start a fight I can't win. I'm not sure if more experience will help, or just give me more opportunities to make a mistake."

He says, "We all make mistakes. It was probably a mistake to come into the city both yesterday and today, but we are entitled to live our lives to fullest and not be scared by potential danger. In hindsight, I would say that I only made one real mistake, and that was yesterday when I disguised the elixirs as cigars. I should have described them to you. The remaining one causes Invisibility, which I believe you already know how to use. But for the Elixir of Etherealness I should have given further explanation as to its use." She replies, "I could have asked, too. No, I don't want to live in fear, of others, or of myself."

She was quiet again for a moment. "I'm still keyed up. And an impending interview with the Empress isn't helping me relax." He says, "Well then, you had best find yourself something to do. But in an ethereal form like that the only thing you would be able to touch is another ethereal form." "Well, now that you mention it..." She grasped his hand and pulled him down to her, just slowly enough to give him a chance to remember that the bench was solid. "I have been looking for a chance to get you all to myself, with no interruptions." She put her hand behind his head and kissed him fiercely, finally able to let her instincts have free rein. He reciprocates, not hesitating to reignite the passions that both have been holding in check for the past week.

For the next twenty minutes, they are nearly oblivious to the world around them. Since anything removed from their persons would become solid and untouchable until the potion wore off, Abby became very quickly appreciative of the Scottish customs regarding how one wears a kilt. Her own skin tingled with pins and needles, the sweep of Cal's fingers leaving a fiery wake behind them. The violent energy that had built up within her at their abduction spent itself far more pleasantly in Cal's arms.

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Silver Moon

Chapter 133, "Shopping with Ela", September 13, 1882, 11:00AM

Ruby hung around in her room for a while, ruminating on what her teacher and friend had just told her. Had he not been involved with killing Mina's first husband, Ruby would never have been born. She was very saddened thinking that she might not be able to easily see her mentor, and he probably wouldn't be "dropping in" to save her any time soon. It was very overwhelming for her to think on, and she was upset she couldn't speak to George about it.

She took a deep breath in then stood and checked herself in the mirror. It would be better to be out and about and not thinking about this now. Later she would speak to George about it but for now she was going to drown her thoughts by having an adventure. She smoothed out her hair, took some of George's hidden money, then returned downstairs to look for the Sheik's friend who would accompany her in the city. The Sultan brings her to a room where a young dark-haired woman is working on record books. He introduces her a Ela, his head of guest services, and also a cousin.

Ruby is a little surprised by the woman's youth for somebody with such responsibilities at a grand hotel, appearing perhaps even younger than Ruby. Ela smiles and says excitedly, "Let us go shopping." Ruby was pleased the girl was close to her age, she would understand much better what Ruby needed. "Pleased to meet you Ela, my name is Ruby. I hope it's not too much trouble to pull you away from work for the day." She laughs and says, "Helping our guests IS my work. Let's go find whatever it is that you are looking for."

The woman removes a large leather pouch from her desk, which from the sound contains coins, and fastens it to her belt and inside a front pocket of her tunic-style beige dress with flowing mint-green colored sheer silk sleeves. Her exit from the room and building is more of a dancer's skip than a walk and takes Ruby a few minutes to adjust to the pace. She smiled and took longer steps to keep up with the peppy girl. "You know, I don't really know WHAT I'm looking for. Something fun and exciting, something that can remind me of my trip here. Well, something that can remind me of your beautiful city. And of course, we can never go wrong with clothes," Ruby grinned.

Ela says, "I will take you to the finest clothier in town," she replies. "That will be excellent," Ruby replied with a smile. "But I'd also like to see what the local marketplace is like. We've done some running around through the city, I am hoping to have a closer look at things. You never know when you might find that diamond in the rough." Ela says, replies, "The we should start with my friend Habib, he makes various teas and other beverages." "Very good, let's go," Ruby replies.

Even though the girls pace was quick, Ruby took in her surroundings as they walked. It got busier and busier as they neared the marketplace. Exotic scents filled the air, while the sound of voices did too. People were hawking their wares, each one yelling louder than the next, trying to entice shoppers to come to them. They walked down a narrow street before stopping in front of a shop. "Let's go right in," Ruby smiled, her spirits already lifted from this morning's events.

The shop has the smell of incense. Various tapestries cover the wall, some appear to be Arabian and others appear to be oriental. Three men are in the far corner smoking on opium pipes, two look to be Egyptian and the other is an orc. This is the first orc Ruby has seen since leaving Arizona, where many of the Chinamen were in the area helping to build the railroads.

A man comes up from behind a curtain to a back room and gives the woman an embrace stating "Ela-sa, it is so wonderful to see you again! And you bring a friend." She replies, "Yes, an American who is visiting with the Queen. I told her that a visit to Zakazik would be incomplete if she left without a collection of your teas." She hands the man a coin and says, "Let's have no haggling here, I have not the time today. Ten Egyptian pound sterling is what we have to spend. See that she receives fair value."

He looks to Ruby and asks, "Are there any particular blends that you seek?" Ruby stepped forward and smiled. "Well, first let me introduce myself, my name is Ruby," she said with an outstretched hand. "I am not a big tea drinker but I did tell Ela that I wanted to sample your fine country. What would you suggest?" He says, "How about an assortment of seven different kinds. Each has a unique blend of local spices and oriental spices." "Sounds perfect." She glanced around the room then asked curiously, "Do you sell anything other than tea here?" "Not for only ten Egyptian Pound Sterling," is his reply.

"And if money isn't an issue, what do you sell then?" She grinned. He says, "I have far more than teas. I have one elixir that you may want. If you give it to the man of your dreams he will then view you as the most desirable woman in the world and swear his undying love for you. There would be no danger too great or obstacle too insurmountable to keep him from you." A bigger than she had intended burst of laughter came out of her lips. "Darling, I'm not going to take that as an insult as you hardly know me, but I don't need an elixir to make a man fall in love me and do my bidding." She gave him a little wink and swing of her hip as she laughed. She chuckled a little longer to herself before stopping, she of course did not mean to offend. "However, I might be interested in any other elixirs you might have."

He says, "Well, I have one that will allow you to charm snakes. Another will allow you to temporarily move twice as fast as you would otherwise. And I have a third that is much more precious, as it will grant a man strength like that of a god." "My, my those sound very useful. As charming as I am, I am not certain those charms would work on snakes," she laughed. "And certainly the other two I am very interested in. Before we talk price, do you have anything else? You're not holding back on me, are you friend?"

He says, "I regret to say that my stocks of elixirs are currently quite low. With fears of the city being invaded by foreigners there was considerable demand for my wares. In fact, I have but two left that grant the quickness and the one that grants the exceptional strength I have only today been able to reconstitute more of, as those had all been sold."

She replies, "Oh, I'm curious Sir, you make these elixirs yourself? I'm quite interested in how exactly that works. I have a friend who makes potions but I admit, in my youth and rashness, I never bothered to ask her how she actually made them, I just wanted to use them. You know what I mean?" He says, "I collaborate on the construction of the elixirs. It is a long and complicated process, and entails the finding of very special ingredients. For example, the elixir that increases one's movement necessitates the use of some blood from a cheetah."

Ruby nodded, "True, I suppose you would need a well stocked cabinet of rare ingredients then. Interesting." She tapped her lip in thought before snapping out of it. "Well, I will take the elixirs and the tea, please." She looked at Ela and thought of George. "Oh, I suppose before I agree you should tell me what they cost." He says, " Oh they are not inexpensive. It would be 3,400 Egyptian Pounds for the lot." Ela says, "Which means they are worth around half of that, 1,700. I would says 2,000 and we would haggle until we split the difference. So let's save time, send them to the hotel and you will be paid 1,850, that is as high as we will go." He thinks for a minute and then says, "Agreed."

Ruby smiled at the girl, she was certainly going to be useful today. "Thank you Sir, it was a pleasure doing business with you." Once the girls were outside Ruby grasped the girls hand and squeezed. "Thank you so much Ela, it was extremely helpful having you with me. I LOVED it! Where should we head next?" Ruby was just as enthusiastic as Ela had been earlier. Ela asks, "Would you prefer to go to the clothing shop or the steam baths?" Ruby's eyes lit up. "Now the steam baths sounds like something very enticing. Let's go there first!" She leads Ruby back in the direction of the hotel with them entering a building three doors away with a sign in Arabic. She says "This is the one for women. The one for men is next door."

Once inside she is greeted by a bald young man who does not appear to have any facial hair, even eyebrows. The man greets her by name and she call him "Bibi". He leads her and Ruby into a side room that has a rows of metal vaults approximately one-foot square and stacked eight high covering the walls. Each vault has a round gem in the center of each door, of various colors but some clear. There do not appear to be any locks. He hands each of them a towel and holds out a small jar with some sort of aqua colored paste. Ela says, "Dip a finger in the gel when press it on a colored gem on a vault door, those are the open ones, the clear ones are in use. That will seal it to your finger so only you can open it. Put all of your things inside, they will be safe there."

Ela dips her finger and demonstrates. Ruby copies Ela, opening her own vault. She puts her bag and belongings inside. "Ready?" Ela has begun disrobing even before Bibi leaves the room. The last item that Ela removes from her unclothed body is the fancy ring worn on her hand, at which point Ruby sees the woman age from a teenager to a woman who appears to be in her late twenties. She is still quite beautiful, but lacks some of the youthful excitement that her body radiated moments earlier. Ruby undressed also, showing no signs of shame.

She asks, "Ela, it's none of my business, but why do you wear that ring? You are beautiful, you don't need it." Ela says, "I agree, but my employers feel that I can be more persuasive if I appear younger. It creates an illusion of how one looked fifteen years earlier. It had belonged to your friend the Sultan, but he has now reached an age where having it on is almost indistinguishable, so he has now instructed me to wear it." Ruby says, "Well that's certainly... I don't know the word. It stinks. Do you think it works?" Ela says, "I don't know, it probably does help with negotiations, but while I'm here I just want to be myself."

She leads Ruby through a door into a room that is warm, humid and has the scent of incense burning. There are multiple small pools of hot water, several of which have women lying or sitting relaxed inside. An alcove leads into a room where the steam appears to be coming from, where many women are seated on wooden benches and talking in Arabic to one another. Across the room is an artificial waterfall where a pair of women are bathing. At the far corner of the room are four massage tables, two of whom have women getting massaged by hairless muscular men wearing loin cloths, with another similar man seated beside each of the two unoccupied tables.

Ruby says, "As far as I am concerned, you can be yourself all the time we are together. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm headed right over there." She waves towards the massage tables. "After all, it's been a rough few days." She leads Ela over to the tables. "Anyone available?" She grinned, "Two please." The two take their places on the tables and each then has warm oils rubbed into their bodies by very skilled hands.

Ruby relaxed over the next hour, melting into the table with moans as the expert masseuse rubbed out the knots and tension in her body. She hadn't even realized just how tense she still was and when the masseuse recommended he continue on, Ruby did not complain. After all the knots were minimized, Ruby joined Ela in one of the baths. She sighed as she sunk into the hot water, "That was AMAZING." She dipped her shoulders under the water. "This is a tough job you have, huh?"

Ela says, "I've had worst days of employment. You seemed to enjoy your massage. Bibi makes sure that each masseuse is very skilled. And you need not worry about those men's thoughts, they are either eunuchs or they have had their desires suppressed with an elixir. Bibi makes sure that he is the only stallion here among the geldings." Ruby raised an eyebrow as she glanced over towards the men. "You know, I'm not usually worried about men and their thoughts, I quite frequently am the target of such desires... And who can blame them?" she laughed, "But I hadn't even thought about that today. I guess I'm a little off my game.

But those poor men, why would they ever agree to suppressing their desires or worse? Is it that good working here? As for Bibi, does he, ah, service the lady clientele here?" Ela smiles and replies, "Oh yes, but very selectively and discretely." Gesturing toward the other men she says, "As for the others, Bibi did not make them eunuchs, they came from other places in that state. For those taking the elixir, it wears off over time." "Then I suppose it's very nice of Bibi to give them jobs they can excel at. And I also suppose this might make my fiancé slightly more agreeable to me coming here." She shrugged and laughed. " Though I really don't think he would care at all."

A few minutes later Ruby asks, "So, Ela, have you been working at the hotel long? Do you enjoy your job?" Ela replies, " I have been there for eleven years. My late husband is a cousin to the Sultan. When he died I was offered a job there as a chambermaid and have been promoted three times since then. I very much enjoy my job but I have advanced unfortunately as far along as I can go. He and his Uncle have even told me privately that they would make me manager if not for the attitude towards women that many Egyptians hold. Perhaps that will change with the new Queen."

Ruby says, "You were married? I'm sorry to hear about your husband. Sounds like you've worked pretty hard to get where you are. Where I come from, it's not much different, they don't take women seriously there either. I've learned if you want something you have to just take it in whatever way you can. As for the Queen, she is young and smart, so I would bet on it that things will change."

Ela says, "Oh, I hope so. I have met her many times before, most of those time in this very room. This is one of her favorite places in Zakazik, and this town was where she would go to retreat from Cairo. It is no surprise that she chose here to begin her reign." She lowers her voice and says, "And her father believed that she met General Orabi in the palace after he was assigned there, but it was more the other way around. They had met here in Zakazik years earlier and he sought career advancement that would bring them closer together." Ruby says, "She did tell me she loved it here. My, I suppose you have heard a lot of secrets in this room. I know the Queen truly loves him. But I wonder if his feelings are the same."

Ela replies, "That is the thing about secrets, they should stay that way. I have probably already said more than I should have about our new monarch." Ruby grinned. "The only new thing you've told me is that she comes to this lovely establishment, which after coming here myself I would have guessed anyway. I've spent some time with her over the past week or so, in some ways we are much alike. Of course, now she is Queen and I am sure our paths will greatly diverge from here. Which is a shame, for she is a good friend, so I hope having to be in charge of a country doesn't have to change her too much.

Ruby continues, "Actually, she may be meeting us, when her business this morning is done. If you've already met her, I am sure you won't mind." Ela replies "I am certain that our new monarch is far too busy with the affairs of state and stopping a war to go shopping with the pair of us." "Then you would be incorrect," Queen Neferka states as she enters the room.

Neferka is not alone as four female attendants accompany her, two like the Queen also attired only in a plush towel, but the other two are dressed in dark silk belted tunics. One has a scimitar and pistol attached to her belt, the other has three daggers of varying sizes on her belt and a rifle slung along her back. Ruby exclaims "Your Highness! I'm so excited you're here! How did the business stuff go?"

Neferka says, "So far, very well. Your fiance is very skilled at this type of negotiation. I believe that I made an excellent choice in picking him. When I heard that you had gone off with Ela I suspected where I might find the two of you. So, tell me, what have you been talking about?" As she talks the two servant girls remove Neferka's towel and help her into the pool with Ruby and Ela. The two women with the swords each take up a position near the room exits.

"Yes, George is good at that business stuff. He's clever and imaginative which I suppose helps him with all his successful business ventures. And he's persistent, he gets what he wants." Ruby giggled, "Remind me to tell you about 'the ring' story sometime. It's how he won me." Neferka says, "I will. I am in a particularly good mood. These negotiations may very well end with my remaining married to Ahmed. If Barrister Sefu were conducting these negotiations instead of your intended they would have probably ended with Ahmed hanging from a rope." Ruby says, "Oh my, now that would not be acceptable! Have you even gotten to see him yet, since you've become Queen??" Neferka says "Not really."

Ruby continues, "Anyway, Ela was just telling me that she's met you a few times, and was hoping that some of old sexist views of people around here might change now that you are Queen. I was suggesting she's very good at her job but she was told there was nowhere else to go because of the old men's views of things." The Princess smiles and says, "Oh, I may be speaking prematurely, but I believe that she may be facing a very attractive job offer to ponder in the near future." Ruby shot Ela a look about the job offer, but said nothing else. Obviously Nerfeka already knew of the girls strengths. Ela says, "A position working for you?"

Neferka replies, "No, for an American businessman. He has requested an appointment with me for either tonight or tomorrow to discuss establishing a branch of his business here in Egypt. His corporation believes in local management and control so he wants to know my recommendation for a business manager. One other incentive that you might like is that while the job will involve work in both Cairo and Alexandria, he would like to have the main headquarters to be here in Zakazik. That is in part because he has offered to fund the restoration of the Bubastis ruins. He apparently visited them a half-centry ago, before the French stole everything, and wants to make sure everything is put back in its proper place."

Ruby interjects, "Which American business man are we talking about? Someone well known? What is his actual business?" Queen Neferka replies, "You know him Ruby, he is married to your Grandmother. His name is James Parker and his business is called the AGELESS Corporation." Ruby stared at the Queen for a long moment then burst out laughing. "I should have known, I guess. I can at least vouch he's good to work for! His business is doing very well right now and it makes sense to have an outpost here."

Ruby says, "Ela, it would be so funny, we might actually be working together now and then! How fun would that be. Of course, I hope the Sheik wouldn't mind losing you too much." Ela says, "Hold on, not so fast. Who is this Parker and what type of work are we talking about?" Ruby shrugged. "That you would have to ask the Queen or James about. He does a lot of different things so I'm not entirely sure what he would be doing here. I know my grandmother went to meet him, he was arriving in town sometime tonight. I wanted to give them some alone time so I escorted the Queen back here instead of going with her. He is a historian and a sometimes adventurer. I have no doubt that he would be working hard on restoring the Bubastis ruins if that is what he said he would do."

Neferka says, "You are right about one thing Ela, it is premature to discuss it as my meeting with him has not yet taken place. Now Ruby, once we finish here where would you like to go?" Ruby says, "Well, I'd love to find some clothes from your country, something exotic. I could use the robes when I sing, I bet they would just love that back home. Maybe jewelry to go with it? And, well, George has promised to build me a house and I just love the look your country has, it's hard to explain what it is exactly. But I love the colorful lanterns and fabrics and decorations. And, well, is there a place that sells magic items? We aren't openly allowed to practice magic in our country so you definitely don't come by any kind of magical items." She stopped and chuckled. "I guess that is a lot."

Silver Moon

Chapter 134, "Audience with the Empress", September 13, 1882, 11:00 PM

Eventually Abby and Callum notice that the carriage is traveling much slower and is traversing the streets of Paris. Abby also notices that Callum's legs and arms appear to be regaining their solidity. Abby buried her head in Cal's shoulder and sighed. "I think our time is running out," she said in a lazy voice. "Your potion is wearing off and we've slowed down. I shouldn't be far behind." She laughed suddenly. "You know, most people just use a bed for this kind of thing, not Egyptian Temples and the backs of carriages."

He says, "Well, suppose I could find a bed for where ever we are tonight. I am thinking it should probably not be the Stuart estate. If any of those wizards are after us that is the first place they will look." As he talks he walks around the carriage and draws the window curtains shut. "Oh gods, and the windows were open!" she laughed. He says, "Yes, but we were in the dark, on the floor, and translucent. Nobody would have seen anything. However, to heal your wound we are going to need to have the lights on and your dress off.

After a moment she added, "You're sure you don't want to go home? You're right, they would look for us there, but they may be looking for us there whether or not we ARE there. Your family and people there now wouldn't even know someone might try to break in." He replies, "If I get obtain our dinner from the Spanish restaurant that I had in mind I can cover that. One of Maracita's friends keeps homing pigeons that travel between there and our estate, so I can get a message back to them." She replies,"That sounds like a good plan to me."

Abby began opening the buttons on her gown in order to pull it off. "And I wasn't worried about the windows, it's just funny. Do you have some sort of formal title I should be using when I speak with the Empress?" He says, "My title is Landholder for the Land of Queen Mary." Abby notes that he is now fully solidified. While talking he removes the cushion from the seat. He then goes over to a hidden toolbox near the door and removes a thin knife, which he uses to lift up a panel that had been beneath the cushion. From that he removes a black Doctor's bag.

He says, "If my sgain dubh had not been taken away I could have opened this panel with it. Losing that item is a major loss, it was quite magical. Maybe you can also talk to the Empress about trying to have it returned due to my family's deep sentimental attachment to it." She says, "I'll mention it. I would think Foccault could be asked to return it as an act of good faith. He probably intended to return it to you. He really seemed to believe he and whomever he had for help would be able to break into the vault. I can't imagine Gerome is good for anything. He's a coward, a liar, and prone to extreme exaggeration, and a terrible artist to boot. Which makes me think he must have some sort of brains in his head. There's nothing else he can offer."

Cal says, "Gerome was very well politically connected. Ingratiating himself to rulers seemed to be his specialty. He was a favorite of both Napoleon III and Wilhelm I of Prussia." He pauses a bit and says, "Gerome was also once very close to Neferka's father. I'm somewhat curious why Daguerre had him with the Heliopolis faction rather than those in Cairo, although he clearly was unaware of the poisoning plot that other members of that faction were attempting. Maybe he was being kept not too far from Cairo as a contingency."

Abby says, "I don't know, either. But after the poisoning was done, if he was so close to the Pharaoh, he would have made an excellent and very visible mourner. I'd say he was there to help allay suspicion against the French, but I honestly don't think they felt they had to worry about that. They had tendrils everywhere, with every faction, and they were covering their tracks very well. I don't know enough about his skills to guess how he might have helped to subdue Meren and the shepherds."

Cal says, "Didn't you say that his main role was fainting after you scratched his arm?" She replies, "To be fair, I scratched his arm, punched him in the nose, and threatened to cut his face. After he claimed to be ruined forever from a scratch that stopped bleeding in seconds, I figured I could avoid any more violence with a few well-made threats. It worked," she said with a smirk. "Although I was trying to get information out of him, not make him pass out. But obviously they didn't bring him there for that. He had some sort of job.

She had continued to open the buttons on her dress, but waited to actually remove it. There was no reason to sit around being cold until Cal could actually put the salve on. The carriage appears to be nearing their destination as it turns off of a main road and slows. With the windows drawn they do not see outside. Callum activates a light inside the carriage. Once illuminated, Abby now sees that her arms and legs have become solid again. I think I'm almost ready here," she said, and began to pull the gown off so they could get a look at the wounds.

While she cannot see the exit wound, the entry wound does look serious with a coin-sized section of skin missing. He says, "Worse than I thought, you outer skin must have still been more solid than I had realized, and with essentially nothing behind to hold it back, the skin tore like a paper marksmanship target would. Not to worry, this salve will do the trick." He takes a small ceramic jar out of the medical bag and unfastens the lid. Inside is a tan-colored paste which he holds his index and middle finger of his right hand over it. "At the first sight of blood I will apply it. Be warned, it will feel as cold as ice."

Abby nodded. "I suppose once I'm solid the wounds will actually start to hurt." She looked curiously at the entry wound. It was certainly odd, as if someone had just cut the layers of skin out while leaving the muscle untouched. "I'm just grateful I was as ethereal as I was, and that we didn't try to go through the side of the carriage any earlier." She watched for another moment and she began to see some blood begin to seep. She immediately felt Cal put the salve on and tried not to jump. It felt like he'd just dropped an ice cube on her.

Once dabbed on the front it mixes slightly with the first drops of blood, giving it a brown rather than tan shade. He next applies some to the exit wound on her back. He then wipes his fingers off with a handkerchief and reseals the jar. The cold temperature soon fades and the paste becomes solid. He says, "I'm sorry to have to say this, but you can now put the gown back on." She took a moment to pull his head down and kiss him one more time before she began getting dressed.

"It is just a tad chilly without it," she said. Get back into the clothing was a little more complicated than getting it off, but she was back in good order before long. "Is everything in place? Even if I could do something about the holes in the dress I wouldn't, they're evidence. But is the rest of me put back together?" He replies, "Meagan knows a 'Mend' spell and can fix the gown tomorrow." They exit the carriage and she sees that they are in a very large courtyard with six-story buildings around on all sides and a large column in the center. Abby sarcastically says, "A little understated, wouldn't you say?"

Callum says, "For Jules Hardouin Mansart, this actually IS understatement. He was the architect for this area, known as the Vendome. But he is better known for another project he did for King Louis XIV, the Palace of Versailles. Yes, I know that Versailles pre-dated Louix XIV, but it was Masaart who substantially expanded it into what it is today. He gestures to the building closest to them and says, "This is the Hotel de Vendome, a five-star facility. It was originally built as a massive townhouse for the French nobility, but was later converted into a hotel. Mr. and Mrs. Duruy are staying in the penthouse."

He turns toward the driver and says, "Driver, please accompany Miss Marsters inside. Once she is safely in the care of the Empress of France you may return and we will run some errands." "Cal, be careful," she said and took his hand for a moment. "Don't leave me stranded here." "Alright driver, let's go," she said, and began to stride confidently into the hotel. A doorman opens the door for Abby and her driver. The interior lobby is spectacular and has large amounts of open space. There appears to be a fancy dining room on the far end of the lobby. There are elevators to bring patrons up to the higher floors.

She sees a long wooden desk area with three employees behind it. "May I help you?" one of the men asks in French. Abigail answered him in her own perfect French, with the air of every confidence that she belonged there. "Good evening. My name is Miss Abigail Marsters, and I have important information for the Empress and Mr. Duruy. Please inform them that I am here and request their gracious indulgence and an audience."

He replies, "Miss Marsters, you are but one of dozens of individuals who have wished to see them since the newspapers wrote of their arrival here. The couple happens to be on their honeymoon and we are not inclined to interrupt them. If you wish to return tomorrow morning you may meet with their appointment secretary, Mr. Richaeleau, and he couldl schedule you then to meet with them at some time in the future."

Abby says, "I am quite aware they are on their honeymoon, sir. I attended their wedding in Egypt, performed by the Priestess Sabah, within an hour or two after Bast departed. And I accompanied her back to Paris in the dirigible which returned the happy couple. And as I'm sure you doubt me, I have also been in the papers, in Britain, in Mr. Stevenson's story of his rescue in Egypt. The information I being relates to the events in Egypt that preceded their marriage.

I understand your position, it is of course your priority to see to it that the Empress and her new husband are undisturbed. But the information I bring cannot wait. I will be pleased to write a short note to have delivered, and we can let the Empress decide whether or not she wishes to see me." He reluctantly gives her a pen and paper to write the note. Abby took the pen and wrote swiftly in the French language.

To her Majesty, the Empress of France,

My name is Miss Abigail Marsters. I had the honor of being present as your marriage and accompanying you back to France. I offer my humble apologies for the necessity of disturbing you at this time.

I have recently learned of your actions in disbanding the Weekly Wizard's group. However, I have just had an encounter with two members of the now defunct group of which I think you should be aware. Their plans continue in defiance of your edict, even if the group does not.

I beg your indulgence and a few moments of your time.

Miss Abigail Marsters

He takes the note and personally heads off with it. While he does not look at the note in her presence, she has no dobut that he will do so once he is out of her sight. It only takes six minutes for an affirmative reply. The man's supervisor, the night manager, escorts her and the driver to the elevator and to the penthouse. The new Mrs. Duruy answers the door herself and appears to not have any servants present. She is attired in a maroon gown with a white silk shawl. The driver nods to Abby and then departs, as does the manager. "Come in, come in," she states in English, adding "I am surprised to see you still in Paris."

Her new husband emerges from a side room, fastening his tie, having apparently just formally dressed. "Now what is this about?" she asks. Abby offered a low curtsey, despite the fact that she got the feeling the Empress wouldn't have been offended had she not. She replies in perfect French "Thank you for your time, I apologize for disturbing you. I returned to Paris to attend the Jacques Offenbach concert with my dear friend Callum Stuart, the Landholder of the Lands of Queen Mary. We were students together."

"To keep it very short, Mr. Stuart and I were abducted at gunpoint from outside the concert hall by Monsieur Daguerre's apprentice Foccault, Jean-Leon Gerome, and two of Daguerre's grandsons named Marcel and Andre. We were approached by Andre and told there that the gunmen ready to end our lives if we refused to go with them. We had little option but to comply. We were searched and then questioned about the whereabouts of the artifact the Weekly Wizard's used to extend their lives. They also wanted to know how to get into the vault where they believe Queen Neferka will eventually place it. Monsieur Foccault assured us we would come to no physical harm, but it was obvious that Marcel and Gerome desired otherwise. It was made clear that we would not be freed until they had reclaimed the artifact. We made it clear they would get no help from us.

Mr. Stuart had a potion hidden on him in the form of a cigar. When Foccault allowed him to smoke it, we used it to turn ethereal and escape. Mr. Stuart's driver was giving chase by then and the men were distracted. Unfortunately not for quite long enough," she said, and indicated the holes in her gown. "Thankfully, I was almost completely ethereal by the time Marcel shot me. It was only the surface of the entrance and exit wounds that were actually damaged, and Mr. Stuart had a healing salve in the carriage."

She paused for a moment. "I feel a bit like a tattling child. Monsieur Foccault I believe did mean to leave us unharmed, if you can call the loss of your freedom for the rest of your life unharmed. But the fact is they continue to consider their own interests to be greater than those of France, and are willing to damage France's relations with Egypt for their own ends. They were also willing to publicly murder myself and Mr. Stuart outside the concert hall, or abduct us permanently."

The Empress states, "Oh, that is terrible. You are fortunate to have escaped." Victor Duruy then speaks up and says, "Indeed. Although I fail to see what either of us can do about it. We have disbanded the wizard society so we no longer have any authority over them. None of us can even get near our former residence, it has been returned to the previous owner and the French military will not even allow us access to the building to retrieve our personal belongings."

Abby replies, "Sir, I wish I was wiser and could answer that question. Even though you no longer have authority, you still have influence. And from what I saw, I think Monsieur Foccault may just need a steadying influence. He could have stopped us from leaving the carriage with a single dispel magic. Cast at the right time it would have killed us. But he made a different choice. Mr. Stuart challenged him to make it right and he did.

What happened to every innocent member of the Wizard's group isn't fair. It wasn't fair for a few members to launch such a plot, and it's not fair that the rest of you suffer for it. It must be a shock, this sudden, violent change. It could be that a month from now Monsieur Foccault would never even have considered doing this. There is a power vacuum where the Weekly Wizard's stood. Your influence could help shape the new path of wizardry in France. What you choose to do with this information is up to you. I have no intention of carrying this further. I cannot speak for Mr. Stuart, but I see no reason for him to do so either. But to not bring this information to you seemed wrong."

The Empress speaks up saying, "Victor, she is right. Fauccault was the ten of clubs, Gerome the nine of hearts. They are confused and lacking leadership. Of the Jacks, Queens, Kings and Aces who is left? None at all from the Spades and Clubs. And of the Hearts only Jean-Francois Millet as the Jack. Of the four suites, only the Diamond leadership is are still mostly intact, with you, me and Mr. Passy. And the two of us would now both be dead if Miss Marsters had not intervened in the poisoning plot.

We have a responsibility for the others. We need to reach out to them, perhaps explain the decision to disband was to satisfy the French Council, but that we wish to still support them. If nothing else, we need to consider that this may not have been just an isolated incident, their actions could still reflect badly on what the two of us are trying to now accomplish." He remains silent and is clearly pondering this. The Empress looks back to Abigail, clearly seeking some further support for this direction.

Abby interjects "Many of the members probably have very little idea of what happened in Egypt. As far as we could tell, most of the members there believed there were there to help, only a very few knew the entire plan. Their world has fallen apart, the future they thought lay ahead is gone and they have no idea what happens next. They are probably angry, and quite likely feeling betrayed. And if no explanation has been forthcoming...

We have already seen Monsieur Fauccault grasping for that lost future. It is very unlikely he will be the only one. Without people they trust to offer them advice, and hope..." Abby shook her head. "Some will adjust and move on. Others may destroy themselves, or others. You have disbanded the Weekly Wizards, but memory is long. The actions of the former members will reflect on you. Your influence could make those reflections something to be proud of."

He says,"I can see your point, but I am not sure that I have the time, with negotiations with he French Ruling Council." The Empress says, "Nonsense, I am the one being nominated for a seat on the Council, not you. For the short term, making sure that our former colleagues better understand what has transpired and giving them direction IS your top priority." Abby kept an absolutely straight face as the Empress laid down the law for her new husband. In love they may be, but he was still a man, and one not used to being married to an Empress. "Congratulations on your nomination, your Majesty," she said.

She replies, "Well, it's not like they really had a choice, once the new Egyptian Ambassador essentially told them to. Between the potential for Queen Neferka to blame all of France for the death of her father, the need for French banks to be repaid by Egypt, the need for French ships to continue to use the Suez Canal and the fact that Meren herself had just personally laid waste to one of the most powerful and well protected castles in Paris, they were not inclined to disagree with her. They have now made it a top priority to arrange the return of all plundered items to Egypt, with imprisonment or execution as the penalties for anybody who resists giving up the Egyptian possessions.

The French have always had a bias against Clerical magic, but having a nature priestess as the head of the council is changing that. My placement back on the council will help to provide some balance and I can't have that upended by actions of my former colleagues." Abby says,"Meren is a very impressive woman, and wise to ask for you to be placed on the Council. The plot in Egypt was aimed at finding a new power base because they felt that the practice of Arcane magic in France was threatened. Not having lived in France over the last few years, I don't know how justified that fear was. But your presence on the council would send a strong message that Arcane magic is still respected."

Abby paused, well aware that she really had no standing to comment on the internal workings of France. "I'm an American, and I have arcane talent. But I haven't been able to develop that talent because of the laws. I've picked up a few things, but not much. I have no wish to see France become like America. Not in that way." Mr. Duruy says sharply, "I can assure you, France has no desire to resemble America." The Empress exclaims "Victor! That was very rude, apologize to the young lady this instant." He turns to her and says, "I meant no disrespect to you personally and apologize if you took it as such. I was merely concurring with your position on the legislation that governs your nation."

Abby says, "Sir, I love my country, but I'm not blind to her flaws. Nor am I blind to the beauties of France. I am also not blind to the fact that I have interrupted your night and should be removing myself so you can continue it. Is there anything else I might help you with before I go? My assistance is yours, humble as it is." Mr. Duruy says, "I believe that is all the information we need. Thank you for bringing it to our attention."

The Empress Eugenia Maria says, "I have one more question for you Abigail. How was the concert?" Abby's eyes lit up. "Oh, it was marvelous," she began. She went on for a minute or so, describing the selections offered, and the scenes and acts from the operettas. "I've never had an opportunity to see such a concert. I'm used to hearing music from small ensembles in clubs. I could have stayed all night if they would have kept playing." The Empress replies, "You should have been here last year after he died. They did a week-long series of concerts as a memorial." Abby says, "Yes, Mr. Stuart mentioned that. I envy anyone who had a chance to attend. I do love music, although I have no talent for it. Well, I shouldn't say that. I've had no training in it, so I have no idea if I have talent in it or not."

Mr. Duruy is apparently anxious for her to leave as he goes to the door and holds it open for her. Abigail fought down a sudden and perverse desire to sit down and converse with the Empress, who seemed to enjoy the chance to chat a bit. Instead she moved to the doorway and stopped in it, turned to the Empress and gave her a full, formal curtsey with a bit of a twinkle in her eye. "I wish you many years of happiness," she said sincerely. "With your kind permission I will leave you to your night."

"Thank you for the visit Miss Marsters," the Empress replies. Abby says, "Oh! I nearly forgot. Mr. Stuart was disarmed of a small knife, part of the Scottish costume. It is a valuable family item. If its return could be arranged, he would be grateful. Good night," Abby said and stepped out the door, and was not surprised to find it closed very quickly behind her.

Silver Moon

Chapter 135, "Shopping with Neferka", September 13, 1882, 1:30PM

Ruby asks, "Is there anything you'd like to do today, Your Majesty? I don't need to take up the whole day, I'm sure your time is very limited now. I had wanted to go out anyway but had something happen this morning that made me want to distract myself as long as I can so I don't have to think on it." While they are talking the proprietor Bibi comes into the room carrying a stack of fresh towels. He quickly departs, but only after getting an appreciative look at the various female patrons.

The Queen replies, "I think clothes shopping is in order. While I have been officially invested into the office of Pharaoh, we still have not had the public ceremony, and I should have new clothing for the ball to follow." Ruby says, "Oh absolutely. You should probably have something made for you, so if you have a favorite store here that can accommodate you, we should go there. When will the public ceremony be?" Neferka replies, "Not for several days yet. First I need to resolve the situation with both the Rebel army and the British army and get them dispersed. Then I will need to arrange and have the funerals for my father and brothers. My public ceremony would most likely be day or two following the funeral, so that any foreign dignitaries who come will be able to attend both."

Ruby says, "Of course. How can you even think of a ball when you have these other, sad and important things to consider?" Ruby dipped her shoulders into the hot water and this time stayed under. "Is there anything I can do to help? Aside from loan you George?" She smiled at the young girl, who suddenly had way too much on her own shoulders. Neferka replies, "Oh Ruby, the use of his time for today and possibly tomorrow is the most important thing that either of you could have done for me. I would have otherwise had to use Barrister Sefu, who would have just wanted to perpetuate my father's policies in regard to both the rebels and the British. This will now be my administration, without having to continue my father's mistakes. Your George was a gift from the gods."

Ruby says, "Well, I'm certainly not used to being wanted second to George but I understand," she laughed. "He IS a gift from the gods, to me. I think Aphrodite always meant for us to be. Even if I tried to mess up her plans, we still ended up together. And he helps me be more than I would be by myself, so there's a plan to that too. To think, if it wasn't for him, I'd be stuck in a little dusty town back in the west, singing night after night, instead of traveling the world. It was quite exciting with trouble at times but I think I would have grown bored with it soon enough. George saved me, in more ways than one." Neferka says, "Ruby, I cannot possibly imagine you with anybody else."

Ruby says, "And I am so happy he can help you too. I can understand it's very important for you to make things your own, going forward. Perhaps in time you might have to add another Barrister, someone younger so you can represent the old and the new." Neferka says, "Perhaps, but in truth I really do need him now. Three men have guided this country for the last quarter-century, my father the King, the Grand Vizer and the Barrister. Only one of them still lives, and if I hope to gain the respect of the various regional leaders I need to first earn Sefu's respect. If he views me as a silly young girl, more interested in my marriage than the country, that will never happen.

If by the time he arrives two days hence, a peace has been negotiated in Egypt's favor, that will put me in very high regard. That is another reason why I wanted my sister present during all interactions between myself and Mr. Eastman, so that when Barrister Sefu questions her, and he will, she will be able to attest to the instruction that I had given my Interim Chief of Staff and know that it was Egypt's best wishes alone that I was seeking, and not my own."

Ruby says, "I would say that was a very smart move. In a time when things must seem very crazy to you, you were able to keep a calm head and make a good, wise choice. I certainly didn't mean to suggest you get rid of Sefu, I was only thinking of making sure you also had someone on your side. But you are right, he is well needed right now and will be able to help you in many ways on the long road ahead of you. Besides, what do I know of such things? I am just a silly young girl and know nothing of things like this. If I was you, I wouldn't listen to me!"

Neferka smiles and says, "Not listen to you? Then whose advice will I get about a dress to wear for my ceremony?" Ela says, "Nobody's if we spend all day soaking here in the tub. And while most men would find what you are wearing to be pleasing, I do not think that is type of attention that you are looking for as our new ruler." Neferka leans over and kisses Ela on her cheek. "What was that for?" the woman asks. Neferka replies, "For speaking to me as a friend instead of a superior, not many will be doing that any more, even my sister is now formal with me."

Ela replies, "In public I will show you the respect afforded the Pharaoh. Naked in a hot tub is another matter." Neferka laughs, "Well, the previous Pharaoh gave you many opportunities to do that as well." "Don't remind me," Ela comments. Ruby says, "Oh my.... Do I want to know? Of course I do, what are you talking about?!?" Ela says, "The King wanted me as part of his harem. That was not the career I was seeking. Thankfully the Sultan was able to distract him with gifts and other women who welcomed the privilege." Neferka says, "Yes, and once father saw how much he would be rewarded he continued to ask the sultan for you every time he saw you, realizing he would come out ahead either way."

Ruby tried to stifle her laugh. "Oh my, I imagine it's hard to say no to a King or someone else in power if they desire you enough... I'm glad the Sultan was able to help you. I really can't imagine being a part of a harem with all those other women. I mean, how unsatisfying for the girls! Though I realize that's not the point. Ruby paused for a moment, considering. "Nerfeka, if you'd like your sister to treat you as a sister in private, why don't you tell her that? She may be afraid to do so and might be happy to hear otherwise."

Neferka says, "I may eventually, but right now that would just confuse her. The current situation is shocking enough, and if I ever hope to train her to be anything other than the wife of a sheik or sultan than I had best keep things on a formal level. She has opportunities now that she never had before, but it may take her a while to realize that." Ruby says, "One day your sister will appreciate all you will do for her. You are a good sister." Neferka says, "Well, if she doesn't I still have one other sister who is even younger. And if that vision the goddess showed us is true Ahmed and I will one day have a son."

Ruby shivered a little, "Well, I am sure you and Ahmed will be very pleased to have a son and your country will also celebrate with you. I, on the other hand, don't think babies are in my future. And that's probably a good thing I wouldn't even know what to do with one." Neferka lowers her voice and says, "I will need to talk to High Priestess Sabah, but I am hoping that they are not in my near future either. That vision was three dozen years into the future and the young man looked to be maybe half that age."

Ruby says, "I understand. Back in Promise City, I had a special friend who made a tea to help with that. Unfortunately I don't have any now. But I have faith the Priestess can help you. I'm sure the two of you need some alone time together, first. And as royalty and someone who knows about magic, I'm sure you get to do something about making your life longer, so you'll have plenty of time for babies." Neferka adds, "Yes, and if I'm not having babies then I will be also be able to enjoy the company of other men, as there would be no questions regarding paternity of a child."

Ruby says, "Or there's that... Are both you and Ahmed planning on having harems...of sorts?" Neferka exclaims, "What? Ahmed would never be allowed such a thing. What ruler would permit that from their consort?" Ruby says, "Well, I don't know how it works! You don't think he fulfill all your needs then?" Neferka replies, "Oh Ruby, what man could ever satisfy all of a woman's needs?"

There was a long, silent pause as Ruby considered her answer. Not so long ago, she would have absolutely agreed with the Queen. But now, there was George. However, the thought started to occur to her that she shouldn't put him on too high a pedestal, not to a powerful woman who could get anything she wanted and who was already keen on his skills. She stared at the Queen, smiled and agreed, "You are so right, and what woman wouldn't want the extra men to meet every whim and desire? Now, let's get going so we can get shopping."

They exit the pool, the the pair of attendants drying Neferka off and then dressing her in the outer room. The pair of female guards stand over her that entire process. When the group exit the building they are joined by a group of twelve male armed guards outside who surround them as they walk the next four blocks to the clothing store. Four of the guards enter first and speak to the owner, who then has all of the other patrons of the establishment leave before the Queen and her guests enter.

"Well, I could get used to this!" Ruby laughed as she walked into the store ahead of the Queen. The staff bowed as the Queen and her entourage walked into the store. There were bolts of colorful, sparkling fabrics hanging on the walls. Jeweled accents, sequins and ribbons accompanied the dazzling fabrics. "This is amazing! Ruby exclaimed as she looked around. She looked at her friend while tapping her lip. "I would say purple, a color of royalty, or just go right to the point with gold or silver. What do you think Your Highness? What are your thoughts?"

Neferka replies, "That sounds excellent. The male guards are sent outside to as to dispense with the need for dressing rooms as the attendants and shop people begin designing the gown upon the Queen. Ruby says, "If money is no object, and I think it isn't, we should have two gowns made. One made of gold, for the ceremony, then one in purple for the reception afterward. The gold dress should be slightly more formal while the after dress can be as daring as the new Queen would like."

For the next hour Ruby helped the dressmakers design the two gowns, including proper accessories to the dresses and shoes. She instructed everyone in the room to keep the designs a secret, so the Queen could make a fabulous entrance. When they are done Ruby slumped into a nearby chair. "Well, that was hard work! But it will be worth it in the end, I'm certain. Anything else you would like to do here?" Neferka says, "Yes, I will now be ready for my ceremony, but you two ladies will also need new dresses for it as well."

Ruby says, "Oh I hadn't even considered that! You really want us there? Both of us?" Nefereka answers, "Of course, now what colors do each of you want?" "Well, I'm partial to red but I look good in anything," she winked. "Ela?" "Maroon or teal," she young olive-skinned lady replies. Ruby nodded, "Very good." The staff of the dress shop offered tea and wine to the ladies while Ruby instructed the dressmakers on gowns for both herself and Ela. While she was at it, she commissioned a few more dresses and robes for herself. She also designed a dress for Abby, in case she made it back in time for the ball. A beautiful sapphire blue, to match her hair and eyes.

It was a wonderful afternoon with the girls, something she really missed. "Alright ladies, where to next? Jewels for the Queen perhaps? I imagine you have something in the royal collection already." Neferka says, "My mother will have no shortage of jewels that will be appropriate. Why don't we go and get some food?" Ruby replies, "That sounds like a fine idea, now that you mention it I am hungry. I don't really know my way around here, and you've got the entourage, so lead away."

They walk around a quarter mile away to a building that Ruby can spell spices and meat cooking before they ever see the building. As with the clothing shop, a quartet of guards enter first and the other patrons of the establishment are quickly evacuated. The group then enters and are shown to the finest table. There are four waiters on duty, so two attend to Queen Neferka while Ruby and Ela each get their own private waiter.

"Now this I can get used to," Ruby grinned. "Please bring some wine, or whatever your speciality is." She turned back to the table. "Things have been so busy I haven't had a lot of chance to just enjoy your beautiful country. She turned back to her waiter, "Actually, just bring whatever your speciality is for the meal, also. I'll continue to be adventurous today I think." She is brought a spicy lamb dish served over rice with a coconut-almond sauce on the side. Neferka is brought a turtle soup followed by a rack of roasted lamb ribs. Ela orders a fish dish with rice and pan-fried beans and carrots.

The girls spend a long hour eating, drinking and laughing. Over dessert Ruby asked, "So Ela, if you don't mind sharing, what happened to your husband? You seem so young to have lost him so early." She replies, "He was eaten by a giant sand snake. It is rare but it happens. There as nothing anybody could have done, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The desert opened up beneath his feet and it had him." Ruby's eyes nearly pop out of her head. "A giant sand snake? Here? I mean, near here? I had no idea such a thing existed! Though I'm not surprised to learn of it, I suppose I've seen such crazy things. I'm sorry Ela, that's very tragic and unexpected."

Neferka interjects, "It is extremely rare that they attack people. Usually they will make their home near large flocks of sheep or goats, where the occasional missing animal goes unnoticed. They have a slow digestive system, so a large animal will sustain them for a few months. But our country is not alone in nature sometimes attacking people. I read in the newspaper not long ago about an incident in your county, when a logger in California was attacked and eaten by a grizzly bear."

Ruby says, "I suppose that's true, I've seen some really strange... animals... back home. But usually you see them coming! But bears are 'normal' creatures... I guess maybe these worms are normal for you. I'll have to be on guard next time I'm playing around in the sand."

Ruby paused to consider this then asked Ela, "You haven't mentioned, do you have any children?" She replies, "Not of my own, but I raised two of my sister's children so I think of them as mine." Ruby asks, "Where are they now? Do they go to school?" She says, "My niece Esjah works for me at the hotel. My nephew Jamed is a soldier in General Orabi's army." "Oh, so they are older. I don't know why I assumed they were young." Ela replies, "They are young. She is thirteen and he is fifteen." "I was living on my own by fifteen, it's not that young." Ruby smiled.

Ruby chuckled, "You'll have to forgive me, I'm rather nosy. I can't help it, it runs in the family!" Neferka interjects, "There is nothing wrong with being inquisitive. I think it is safe to say that neither of us three would be where we are now if we fell into the role of the traditional female who only spoke when directly addressed by a male and never said what was really on our minds." Ruby says, "Yes Nerferka, you are right, none of us are traditional, though Ela has been held back somewhat. But it sounds like not for long! And now as a Queen you can bring your whole country into the modern era. People have to listen to what you say.

George wants to make me a theater and name it after me, so I can sing there, but that isn't all that world changing. But it would certainly give me a place to say what's on my mind." Neferka says, "Is that all? I would hope that he wanted to do far more than that. There is a 500-seat theater in Cairo that I could purchase and give to you if that is all it would take to make you satisfied." Ruby laughed. "I'm not even sure what I want. You wouldn't believe how different my life is from just one year ago. I didn't spend a lot of time dreaming of what I wanted. I love to sing and I thought I wanted to act... I'm not sure you have ever even heard me sing yet! It is a gift I do thank the gods for.

George loves my singing, that's why he wants to build the theater for me. And honestly, he wants to give me the world! Anything I want he gives me. But I don't really need... Stuff. I mean, it's nice to have pretty things but I don't NEED them, To be satisfied, I think all I really need is love. Real, true love. And George? He's truly loved me forever, since we were children, he's loved me. So after that... Love... I think really, what I really want is to travel and see the world and have adventures. With George, with my grandmother, with my friends. The world is so wonderful and so vast, I think it would be marvelously fun to explore all of it. Most especially with George, it would be so romantic."
She laughed at herself. " I know, it sounds silly and stupid."

Neferka replies, "Not at all. A few years ago I did some travelling, around Europe, Asia and Africa, but I prefer to be home here in Egypt. And as for travelling the world, both of you will always be welcomed here." Ruby answers, "Well, thank you so much Your Highness, I am certain we'll be back. I do love it here, it's one of the first places I wanted to see and I am not disappointed. I'm sure if James sets up here, we'll have someplace to stay. Is there somewhere from your travels you'd recommend me seeing? I'd love some advice."

Neferka says, "Well now, that would depend upon your individual interests. If music, singing and dancing are your principle past times, then I would suggest Paris. If historical castles are your fancy, then Germany and rural France would be my top suggestion, if warm sunny exotic places are more to your inclinations then I would suggest Morocco, Bombay or possibly the islands of Greece." Ruby says, "Ohhhhh, they all sound amazing! I could no sooner choose one than choose my favorite song. Perhaps I'll leave it up to George. Or maybe we'll just take one long vacation and visit them all!

She continues, "Actually, we've been quite busy since we got here. Is there anything you recommend us seeing in Egypt before we leave? I don't want to miss anything special." Neferka says, "Well, you've already seen the great pyramids, although I would suggest that perhaps you should go there during the daytime and under better circumstances." Ruby chuckled. "That's probably a good idea. I will definitely do that. Any place else? Otherwise I think we'll just go wandering."

Neferka cautions, "Don't go wandering alone. You may be Americans, but you could easily be mistaken as British, who are far from welcome in most places with strong rebel factions. You should probably stay in the areas of Cairo, Gizah and Memphis. Even Zakazik won't be a safe place for you to wander about once those who are away with the rebel forces return. On future visits, after I have restored things back to normal, you can branch out and visit other places."

Ruby smiled at what she knew but the new Queen did not. She could take care of herself in almost any situation, it'd been proven over the last six months, in trials of the body, mind AND heart. "I understand, thank you for the warning. Hopefully I'll get some time alone with George at some point and we can see the safer sights. We'll try to be quiet and inconspicuous about getting around. Even if we don't, I know we'll be back soon enough." Neferka says, "As I said before, the two of you will always be welcome here. Well now, we've taken care of bathing, clothing and food. I suppose we should be heading back to the Grand Hotel so that I can see how your intended has progressed with his negotiations."

Ruby says, "Yes, it would be nice to have him back to myself. Hopefully negotiations have gone smoothly and as you desired." Ruby began packing up her belonging. "Though I did think to order some home furnishings. Do you need me with you Nerfeka? It sounds like you may have a little more business to attend to." "You can continue with Ela", Neferka replies. While the Queen's entourage packs up and readies to leave Ruby approaches her friend.

She says quietly, "Your Majesty, I have a question to ask you. A favor, really. I was wondering if you would consider letting George and I borrow your magic carpet for a night? I know it's a lot to ask and understand if it's not possible. But I would like to spend a little alone time with George and think it would be fabulous to get to see your beautiful country with him." She replies, "I will consider that request. Do realize that it will only travel at the very fast speed for the Pharaoh, for anybody else it would fly no faster than a regular flying carpet."

Ruby's green eyes widened. "I hadn't even realized there WERE other magic carpets! Are they available somewhere?" Neferka laughs, "Not likely given the war. Those who have them aren't likely to give them up until the land is at peace again." "You're so lucky. We don't have any place to get magical items back in America since we're not suppose to be practicing magic. I don't really need one anyway, I just thought it would be fun for George and I to spend some time sightseeing from above. I'm going to ask him to take me out. Thank you. I will see you back at the hotel. Don't spoil my fiancé too much!" Ruby kisses the Queen's cheek and watches her leave.

Ruby asks, "Ela, do you mind accompanying me to one more shop? I'd like to buy some home furnishings." She replies, "Certainly, although you might find it expensive to ship to America. "Hmmm... That's true. Though I'm certain Mr Parker could arrange to have it shipped on his boats." She shrugged. " George wouldn't mind spending the money anyway. They head down the street to a show that the main specialty is wool rugs and cotton rugs, although a number of other types of home furnishings are also available.

Ruby happily wanders up and down the aisles, feeling fabrics and imagining what the room will look like when it's done. She first chooses a very large exotically patterned red, black and orange rug. To go with that she chooses some tapestries for the walls and fabric for chaise lounges. She closes her eyes and breathes in the unfamiliar spicy scents, which helps her put the whole thing together, the room and what she wants it to be. "Ah yes," she walks over to the lighting, where she picks out many different types of lanterns, some hanging, some for sitting on tables and the floor. "I think that is all I need today." She thanks the shop owners and informs them she will notify what the shipping situation will be.

"Ela, is there anything else you think I should see today?" She replies, "I think this day has been rather complete. I do have one other errand, but you would probably find it boring, so we can return now to the hotel." Ruby shrugged. "If it's easier I can go with you, I don't mind. What do you have to do?" She replies, "Food negotiations for the hotel. I need to meet with a livestock breeder, a vegetable farmer and a baker. They are all together at a building for food brokers. I want to have those discussions now before a peace treaty is announced in order to get the best possible prices. While they still fear their warehouses in the city might be looted by British or Egyptian Rebel soldiers"

Ruby says, "Well, if it is easier for you, I will join you. Otherwise you are correct that's not really my thing," she laughs. "But I don't mind. It would keep me out of George's hair while he does important stuff." The pair of them head off towards a business district on the opposite end of the city. Ela says to Ruby "You are fortunate to have become such close friends with our monarch. If you wanted to remain here in Zakazik I am certain that it could be arranged."

Ruby chuckled, "I'm not exactly the settling down type... Though..." She is momentarily pulled into her own thoughts and a wistful look crossed her face. She quickly shook herself out of it, "Well, I suppose things change. It is quite lovely here and I can see there are still many corners to be explored. Sadly, George's business is back in America. And yes, I am fortunate to have become friends with the Queen. Right place at the right time and all that. She is a very special woman and I am grateful."

Ela says, "She is indeed. We are both fortunate to have met her prior to her change in role. I suspect that from this point on she will never be able to establish 'normal' relationships." Ruby nodded. "I guess so, but isn't that sad. I hadn't thought of that. Being a Princess isn't all it's cracked up to be." She spoke the words without thinking but it suddenly brought her back to another time and place and she withdrew into herself for some time.

Silver Moon

Chapter 136, "Future Plans", September 13, 1882, 11:30 PM

Abigail began to walk back toward the lobby of the hotel, certain Cal would not be back yet. He would probably barely be gone. What to think of her meeting with the newly married pair? Duruy she was developing a mistrust for. Not because he had been a bit rude, considering the last few days she had not expected nearly as pleasant an interview as had happened. But it was almost as if he was glad to be rid of the Weekly Wizards. And he seemed to consider his wife's power to be his, and it might take him some time to learn that he had not married a meek woman who would hand her power over to him.

Several scenarios ran through her mind. Some where everything was as it seemed to be, others where both the Empress and Duruy had already known and there were plots aplenty. There only thing to do know was wait and watch. And she would be out of France tomorrow night anyway. The manager who had escorted her upstairs is very quick to find his way back to her. "Miss Marsters, it is good to see you again. Is there anything that I can get for you?" 'Funny, I don't feel any more important than I was fifteen minutes ago,' she thought.

"Just a comfortable place to wait for my escort to return," she said. "My business with the Empress took a bit less time than we anticipated." "Please follow me," he states. He escorts her down the hall to the fancy dining room at the end. he tells the maitre d "Julius, this is Miss Marsters. She is a close personal friend of Mr. and Mrs. Duruy who attended their wedding in Egypt and accompanied them back to Paris. Please find her a nice table and bring her anything that she would like. It is on the house."

Abby says, "Sir, while I appreciate that, I don't wish to leave you with a mistaken impression. I had the honor of attending the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Duruy and returning with them to Paris, but I cannot claim more than acquaintance with the happy couple. We were involved in different interests in Egypt and happened to cross paths, nothing more." He replies, "Yes, and they interrupted their honeymoon to see you. Your humility is inspirational, but please, accept my hospitality."

"If you insist," she said, giving in. She followed the maitre 'd into the dining room and was seated at one of the better tables. Cal would be bringing her something to eat, but she really was starving. Perhaps just a drink and something light, to hold her over. They point out that the night's specials are a roast duckling, a braised beef over rice dish, and grilled European Salmon. She says, "Really, a whole entree will be far too much, and I couldn't possibly finish it before my escort returns. What I would really like is a glass of red wine, and perhaps a small appetizer? Something with a bit of beef?"

They bring her a plate with coin-sized medallions of beef atop a light cream sauce. The sommelier brings her a bottle of an 1865 burgundy that he recommends with the dish. Abigail enjoys her light meal in peace. After a half-hour she sees Callum's Driver enter the room. Abby folded her napkin and stood up. Thankfully she had not been pressed to eat more, since Cal was already picking up something for them to eat. She walked over to the Driver and despite knowing it would not answer her, said, "I'm ready if you are." He nods. She cannot recall ever hearing the driver speak.

He leads her outside and opens the door to the carriage. Callum is inside with an anxious look on his face. As soon as the door shuts he asks, "How did the audience go with the couple?" Abby replies, "Better than I expected, but I had to put up a bit of a stink to get the staff to let me see them. More than I'd have liked," she said and sat down. "And the staff were very impressed when they actually agreed to see me. I can't say I care much for Mr. Duruy. At least he wasn't pleased to see me, but I can't blame him for that. He may be newly married, but his world has still crumbled around him.

Callum laughs out loud and says, "Well, I cannot put any blame on either him or the staff of the hotel. What I know now, and didn't know then, is that the couple spent all of last night establishing plans while at the Lourve and all of today with the French Council. While they established this location yesterday as their temporary home they only first arrived at it an hour before we did. Victor Duruy has been in love with the Empress for thirty years, they have been married for thirty hours, but this past hour has been the first time for them to consummate the relationship....which you interrupted."

"Who have you been talking to, to get that much information?" she asked. Her replies, "Maracita informed me. I spoke to her again when I was picking up the food. She has her sources in the city." Abby says, "I admit that would frustrate me, too. In fact, I'd get frustrated even without the thirty year wait." He says, "Yes, be thankful that they granted you an audience. If I were in his position I doubt that I would have." She smiles and replies, "So impatient. I suppose it's lucky for me he wasn't the only one deciding."

Abby continues, "We talked about that a bit, actually, in relation to the other former members of the Weekly Wizards. The Empress has been invited to sit on the Council, and actions like this by former members are apparently quite contrary to her plans. Honestly, I wasn't sure how to feel about the interview. I'm getting suspicious of people, I wondered how much I was missing in the conversation between them." He says, "I might be able to help with reading between the lines. What specifically did they say?" Abby repeated the conversation for him as best she could. "It was obvious they had some kind of plans, and there was no reason to share them with me." She shrugged. "Likely there's nothing to be suspicious of."

They travel a short distance to the northeast and reach a gated area with the sign "Parc des Buttes-Chaumont". The driver heads over to the gate, unlocks it, drives the carriage through, and then re-locks the gate. Callum says, "We'll have both safety and privacy here. This park was created twenty-years back and is only open to the public during the day, but I am friends with the evening caretaker." They soon reach a lush green area beside a pond.

A blanket has been laid out alongside a small portable table set with fine china, crystal glasses, and candles. The driver lights the candles and sets up the place settings with food taken from a hamper that he brings from the carriage. Callum says "That will be all" The driver replies in a mechanical voice not unlike the sound of a poor Bell Telephone connection, "Very well sir." He returns to the carriage. "Oh Cal, this is lovely." She sat down close to the table, leaving plenty of room for Cal to join her. She held out her hand to help him take a seat next to her. She leaned over and kissed him.

She says, "You've been busy while you were gone. I take it you got your telegram sent." He replies, "Yes, and the carrier pigeon message as well, letting my cousin Charles know that we will be staying elsewhere this evening." She says, "Good, I wouldn't want anyone back at the estate to be worried. Where will we be staying tonight, do you have an idea about that already?"

He says, "I did not before but I do now, based upon your conversation with the Duruys. We will spend the night at the mansion that formerly belonged to the Weekly Wizards. They stole the building from the Beaujoulais family, so if it has been returned to that family it means that my colleague Maurice now owns it. He has wanted that for decades, and would not have hesitated to return there once notified by the French Council, meaning that he is there right now. You also mentioned that the Council has barred the wizards from returning there, meaning that both soldiers and magic-using French officers are guarding it from them, so it would actually be the safest place for us to go to."

She replies, "Could he have been notified and returned so quickly? It's only been a few hours." He laughs "Did you forget what Maurice does for a living?" She says, "Oh, I haven't forgotten. But even with magic information can only move so fast, and I don't know where he was when the decision was made. You're right though, that probably is the safest place for us to go. I hope he won't mind too much." He says, "I hosted him in France for months, the least he can do is return the favor for a night. And I have been anxious to see what damage Meren and her crew caused."

Abby replies, "Meren and the others didn't have much time, so I'm sure they left a bit of a mess behind them looking for that artifact. The Weekly Wizards would have made a lot of changes to the place. How did they take it from people who didn't want to give it up in the first place? With that kind of start, I can't say I'm surprised where that group ended up. An inflated sense of what you're entitled to never leads anywhere good."

He replies, "It occurred during that four-year political mess known as France's Second Republic before things stabilized under Napoleon III. The Beaujolais family had backed the wrong people and found themselves not only outcasts but imprisoned. The wizards stole their manor house and all of their possessions at that time. Maurice's parents died in that prison and upon his release he sought vengeance, which is how the British were able to recruit him." Abby says, "Gods I hate politics. No wonder he wanted vengeance. But now that it's achieved, I hope he has something else in his life to move on to. Getting what you want can you leave you wondering what's next."

Callum's voice lowers and he says, "I've been wondering that about myself, the what's next part, not that I've achieved what I wanted yet." "I have no doubt you have a long list of things you want to accomplish," she said. "You have a wealth of things to choose from for your next." He says, "Yes, but whatever I choose, I would want you to be a part of." Abby smiled and took his hand.

She says, "After we found each other again so unexpectedly, it would be a shame to waste the opportunity. But this time is different. The last time we were separated was because others wanted us separated. Now we have control. We can choose to keep track of each other and find ways to connect even if we go separate ways for a while. I'd like a chance to find out what may have happened if we'd stayed together, but you need to make the best decision for yourself. For now, I think my current group is the best place for me. I can get some of the experience I need."

He asks, "And how would you feel about me possibly joining your current group?" Abby smiled and waited a few moments to answer as she considered. "We work well together, and you got over telling me things were too dangerous pretty quickly. As long as we both think we can behave like professionals when we need to, I think that could work out just fine. "And thank you. For asking me. A lot of men, maybe most wouldn't have considered my opinion."

He says, "I am not like most men. Your team has a lot of very formidable men on it, and is currently led by a middle-aged woman. That speaks volumes." She says, "I know. Believe me, I wouldn't have given you the time of day if you were like most men. When I decided to become an archeologist, I made other choices by default. And one was that a man like most men was never going to do. He wouldn't want me, and I wouldn't want him."

She looked up at the stars. "I left love to chance. It would come or it wouldn't. The fact that the chance is here... I'm more surprised than I thought I would be." He answers, "I know how you feel. For the last several years I have allowed my work to distract me from thoughts of you. Now that career is over and I am here with you. How quickly things change."

She says, "I'm not sure you could know quite how I feel. When you left the first time, you knew about your career. I didn't. The only explanation I had was the disapproval of your family, and you hadn't told me you felt anything strong enough to defy them over it. You spent the time apart thinking of me. Perhaps imaging or planning a way for us to meet again. I got angry, then sad, and then I let it go. I had no reason to think you would ever seek me out again. Meeting you again, and being here in Paris, has explained a lot of mysteries for me."

He touches her hand and says, "Good, then maybe you can explain some of them to me. Abby, I want a future with you. Don't misunderstand, I am not proposing marriage. I'm certainly not ready for that sort of commitment. But I have no desire to lose you again." She sighed and smiled. "I'm not ready for marriage either. But I think I'm ready to see where you and I could go together." He says, "Well then, we can to to wherever Mrs. Parker decides to send us next, assuming that she will let me into your group."

She says, "There's no doubt you have the kind of skills that will fit right in. What you'll have to convince her of is that you no longer have any conflicting loyalties.There's no way to know what we may discover in the future, and Mrs. Parker will want to be sure that you won't feel obligated to pass that information on somewhere." He answers, "Understood, which is another reason why we should go visit Beaujoulais Castle, to confirm my assumption about my being discharged."

Abby says, "Not that I'm in a hurry to leave this beautiful spot, but we should at least get started on this gorgeous food, enjoy the stars and the quiet for a bit, and then we can go to the Castle. They desperately wanted to feed me back at the hotel. You would have thought I was a Queen after I came down from speaking to her." He smiles and says, "I'm half tempted to go back there tomorrow for breakfast." "We will have to eat breakfast somewhere..." she smirked. "But it's probably best to steer clear of the Empress for a while. Or at least Mr. Duruy. I'd end up that girl who shows up everywhere that they dread."

He points out what each dish is, all native foods of Spain. They ate the excellent Spanish food, and Abby was glad she'd eaten so lightly at the hotel. She spent almost as much time looking up at the stars as she did eating. No matter how often she looked up at a night sky, she was always fascinated with its beauty. "Did Maracita help you pick all this?" He replies, "She did, as well as updating me with information that her contacts had found out. That is how I knew about the Duruy family. She has also heard that Ambassador Meren has been very well received by the French Council, which should greatly help Neferka in both the short and long run."

Abby says, "I wish I could say I knew the Ambassador well, but from the time I did spend with her she's an extraordinary woman. She is humble, but confident. She knows her abilities and her own mind, but her ego doesn't get in the way. Someone like that can get a lot done." Callum says, "Very true. But the most extraordinary woman in all of this is the one who appointed her. The world is only just now starting to get a glimpse of it, but I believe that Queen Neferka will be a force to be reckoned with. Did you notice her interactions with Bast? Neferka treated her like an equal. Technically the Pharaoh is indeed considered a deity, and Bast is sworn to respect and protect the Pharaoh, but how many other mortals do you know that would look a god or goddess in the eye without the slightest hint of awe."

Abby says, "I'm still not sure how I feel about Neferka. I do think you're right, she is going to be a woman to be reckoned with. I just don't get the best feeling about her. I don't know if she will turn out to be a pragmatist, or fall further out and let the ends justify the means when it comes to her goals. And I think you'd be surprised just how many people might be unimpressed by a god or goddess. You HAVE heard how they behave, haven't you?"

Callum says, "Ah, you mean Zeus attempting to mate with anything that moves near him! Or Dionysus and his excessive drink. Yes, not all deities are the paragon of virtue. Bast however, she was very impressive and virtuous. I think the new Egyptian Queen should have shown more reverence." Abby replies, "I don't actually expect gods to be paragons of virtue. It's more that I find gods, no matter whose pantheon, are just a reflection of people but with more power. I see why we would worship a god or goddess who reflects what we believe in, especially since that worship would strengthen the god and the ideas. But if the gods are just powerful reflections of us then why, except for fear, would we not approach them as equals? What makes them better than us? That said, Bast is committed to the protection of Neferka's Kingdom. And THAT deserves gratefulness and perhaps reverence as well." He says, "Indeed it does."

They have finished eating the main and side courses. All that remains is a sweet cake with a fruit glaze icing. "Why do I feel like I've shocked you?" she smiled and broke off a piece of the cake. "I've spent so much of my life examining what people do and why, I can't help looking at our relationship with the gods the same way." He says, "Well my dear, I plan to be an open book with you. Now, shall we finish this bottle of wine and then head over to our burnt-out mansion to see if they have room for us?"

Abby says, "It's a lovely night, it seems a shame to hurry, but we probably should. It would be rude to wake him, wouldn't it?" Callum summons the driver to return. The carriage pulls up and Callum holds the door for Abby. Callum give the driver the address of Beaujoulais Mansion, located in a well-to-do suburban area four miles distant. As they head off Callum says, "We have no luggage. We will have to borrow things from Maurice when we arrive if we are staying until tomorrow."

Abby says, "Cal, I came to Paris without any luggage, I think we'll manage. Since he just got the house back I'm not sure what he'll have, although I imagine the Weekly Wizards left quite a bit behind." He replies, "That they would have. Perhaps we can assist Maurice with inventorying it." "And divesting himself of it?" she said lightly. "Seriously though, I'm sure Mrs. Parker will be interested in knowing what was left in that house. The Wizards as a group may be a thing of the past, but insight into the members should still be useful."
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Silver Moon

Chapter 137, "Round Six: A Treaty", September 13, 1882, 3:30PM

Queen Neferka returns from her shopping excursion, is briefed by George, the Colonel and her sister, and prepares for the treaty meeting. Once Colonel Hassan and George Eastman conduct one more reading of the treaties they are satisfied, and send for the British, the Rebels and the Queen.

George calls for the British delegation and the rebel delegation to come to the conference room. Once they arrive, he will announce the Queen for the finalizing of the treaty. Places are set up in the room, with a place for the Queen in the very center, to be flanked with George on her left and her sister on her right. Colonel Hassan's chair is situated on the opposite side of the table so that he is physically between the other two delegations.

George sits in his chair, then stands up and heads over and opens the locked cabinet, pours a glass of whiskey, downs it, then closes the cabinet back up, locks it, and heads back to his chair. he gestures to Hassan to take his seat as well. Hassan sits as well and George signals the Ogre guards to let in the two delegations, while the Queen and Princess wait in a separate room to enter last.

Colonel Hassan announces the arrival of the Queen as everybody in the room stands. Neferka enters followed by a number of retainers. Her sister follower, accompanied by half as many retainers. They stand by their chairs and Neferka commands everybody to seat, as she too takes her seat. She turns to George and says, "I will let my Interim Chief of Staff summarize the treaty." The scribes produce the half-dozen parchment scrolls. General Orabai and his generals have facial expressions that range from surprise to anger. One looks as though he is about to speak, but General Orabi makes a motion that stops him.

George watches the exchange with aplomb as he waits for the Rebels to gather their composure after being held in check by General Orabi. George catches Hassan's eye and gives him a partially raised eyebrow as he gives Hassan a half smirk. Hassan conceals his own smirk behind his hand as he shakes his head in disbelief. George catches Neferka looking at him, she had apparently saw the exchange or at least Hassan's face, and she was now looking quizzically at George for a moment before returning to her Queenly serene composure.

"Gentlemen" begins George "Thank you all for your patience, consideration, cooperation and reasonableness. A three-way negotiation is never easy, and everyone was willing to compromise to come to a fair, equitable and reasonable treaty. As the Pharaoh has requested, I shall summarize the salient points of the treaty. Please do remember gentlemen, that each delegation was negotiating with the Crown, and not each other. Please refrain from any commentary until the full terms are read. I believe, truly believe that, everyone can live with the terms of this treaty. It has the sanction of the Pharaoh and of Bast, and the crown holds this treaty to be valid under the rule of law and divine authority."

George pauses a moment to let those facts seep in, especially for the rebels. "This treaty states thus: The armed forces under General Ahmed Orabi which left the authority of the Crown, and fought against it, shall immediately disarm and disband." There is a growl from a rebel general that causes George to pause and glare at the man before Orabi whispers to him. George continues "Additionally" begins George strongly "Additionally, all members of the insurrection shall reaffirm and swear allegiance to the Pharaoh and the Crown and to the divine right of the Pharaoh to rule these lands as granted and reaffirmed by the Goddess Bast herself. For the defense of the state, and in understanding of their stated aims for insurrection."

Here George pause "which as an American I can quite understand" he says with a sly wink to Drury-Lowe. George continues: "A small number of these men shall be reinstated in their service to the Crown as a special garrison to serve as a Canal Security Force." Here an English general vocalized his displeasure, and George shot him a scathing glance, which settled him down. "No officer under General Orabi will be eligible and the men will be chosen by a designee of the Crown from the Royal Army."

"The British Army will immediately withdraw their forces from Egypt, excepting for a garrison sufficient for fleet resupply. These forces shall be restricted to the existing base in Alexandria. The base and forces shall be permitted to be used by the British Navy for a period of ten years from the date of the treaty, any continuance shall be solely at the discretion of the Pharaoh. Additionally, the British Empire shall endorse and support a reversion of fee rates for canal usage. Henceforth ALL foreign vessels shall pay the full fare required to utilize the canal, saving those of the British Navy, and then only for the period of the lease of the Alexandria base.

Additionally, the British Empire shall endorse and support the restoration of the original terms of the canal in so far as ownership of the canal will return to Egypt. Restoration of the original fee rate WITHOUT discount will enable the Crown to pay back the loans upon the canal in a timely manner without usurious fees or attempts at transnational economic annexation."

George pauses and takes a drink of water. "Gentlemen, this treaty does not provide everything to everyone, but it is the best of all possible outcomes, ensuring autonomy, peace and prosperity for all involved" finishes George. "Please take a moment to read over the details" says George as copies are handed out.

Half an hour passes as each contingent reads the treaty-word-for-word. There are clearly objections from both groups, although each has an influential member who advises the others to accept what is written and not reopen negotiations. With the British it is Duruy-Lowe and with the Egyptian Rebels is is General Orabi. Both groups reluctantly agree to sign.

George watches each group as they read. He knew he had gambled on this, but he was confident each side got enough of what they needed to accept it. What was the old saying 'if neither side is happy it is a good compromise'. Cooler heads help, but he had divine right and might to hold over the Rebels and economic and legal threats over the British. They had no legal leg to stand on and knew it. Only this time, George wasn't going to be bullied by a larger military force they way the British had maintain military presences in the past. Still pulling this off would be akin to passing a camel through the eye of a needle. This gave the the Queen the best possible outcome to stabilize the country. George found he had been holding his breath as the groups finished and gave a small sigh, too small to be heard by anyone but the Queen as both groups agree to sign.

George signals an assistant who brings out the pens for the ceremony. "Gentlemen, thank you all for your thoughtful contributions. This treaty will signal the beginnings of peace and prosperity for both nations. Please, sign with these pens made from the tail feathers of Nile peacocks. "says George while passing out the pens and inkwells. As each copy is signed, George and Hassan help pass them along, with George bringing the copies to the Queen for signing. He gives her a sly wink when he brings the first one up and is given a small smile in return before her face returns to queenly composure. After all six copies are signed and countersigned by all the parties. George rolls them up in vellum tubes and gives copies to all.

"Now to commemorate this fine day of cooperation, champagne to toast peace," says George signaling to have the champagne brought in. As the beverages and brought out and distributed, Neferka announces that she will use her Chariot to transport the Generals back to their troops once the brief commemorations end, as she is still very concerned about the armies being camped so close together is akin to a powder keg, so the sooner they know of the peace agreement the better.

She says that the British will be brought back first, to begin their withdrawal at 3:00PM and that she expects them to all be away from the Tel el-Kabir and Zakazik region by dawn. She tells General Orabi to start disbanding his army as well, but for them to all remain in the Tel el-Kabir and Zakazik regions until 3:00PM tomorrow. That way there will be little likelihood of the British and Egyptian Rebels encountering one another on the road, which could incite clashes. She also suggests that any or Orabi's enlisted personnel interesting in joining the new canal force should remain in the area for interviews.

George looks at the generals as they confer quietly, as all agree. George mingles shaking the hand of each of the generals and thanking them for their efforts for peace. As the generals filter out George signals the guards to close the doors, leaving just Hassan, Amisi and Neferka in the room with him. George walks over, pour a double measure of scotch and slumps in a chair. "Damnnation. We pulled it off," he says grinning at Hassan. "See, don't talk to people you don't need to!" George laughs" downing half his drink. Neferka says, "I had no doubt in my mind. One thing that my father was right about, if you put the best people in charge and give them the freedom to do what is needed they will always leave you satisfied."

George raises his glass to Neferka, "Your Majesty is too kind. I could not have succeeded without the colonel here", says George indicating Hassan. "His information on troop numbers and logistics was invaluable. But I did play a high stakes game with them, especially the British, I had a few aces up my sleeve," says George finishing his drink. He gets up refills the scotch and continues, standing now. He chuckles to himself "I thought Woolsley was going to have a stroke when I told him that I was going to seize and nationalize the canal," George laughs.

"Oh that reminds me" George starts again turning to Hassan. "How is the military's armaments? How update date is the arsenal?" The Colonel says, "It is not, which is one of the reasons that the King called on the British to assist with the rebellion. And half of what we did have for armaments was seized by the rebels, some of which was used up during the battles these past several months. We will need to upgrade the armaments used to control the canal. I would also like to acquire a pair of modern warships, one to be docked at Suez, the other at Alexandria."

"Well, I can't do much about a warship, other than use some connections for you. Whatever the rebels took will be recovered though not ammunition or damaged pieces true. But I was thinking that, with your Majesty's permission of course," says George raising his glass towards Neferka. "That I would set up a factory here in Egypt, to make a modern firearm for the exclusive use of the Egyptian army. The Swiss have a new Madsen out that has some kind of magazine on the top. I think it would do quite a bit to advance the modernization of the army. About an 8mm shell I think. We could set up a foundry for the smelting and casting of the casing here, make you self-reliant for ammunition. Oh and of course I have a more than passing interest now in airships. There may be an opportunity for that as well," says George finishing his scotch and pouring yet another, it had been a tense morning.

Neferka says, "My, you are ambitious. I anticipated your requesting a factory here for your photography business, not munitions, although I would favor both under the general terms that you have just outlined. I have also heard that your associate James Parker will be arriving here this evening, and he wishes an audience with me to discuss establishing an Egyptian branch of his AGELESS Corporation. What can you tell me about that Mr. Eastman?"

"James Parker is an honorable man, and has the highest motives. I actually have business with the man and need to see him when he arrives as well. I think though that an AGELESS chapter here would be good. I am glad you are receptive to both factory ideas. I believe that an updated military is important for the security of the state. And mining for silver and mining for iron go hand in hand. Investment in heavy industry will be beneficial for the economy here. If that goes well perhaps we can discuss an airship factory. I got bit by that bug while here." says George grinning.

She smiles and says, "I concur. Having the one airship already will certainly help to patrol the canal, having more than one will help with everything. "George leaves with a written and signed agreement in principle for the factory. He shakes Hassan's hand and promises to consult him over the next few days. He takes his formal leave of the Queen and Princess to find Ruby.

George leaves the conference room and heads to the garden. There he sees Drury-Lowe having a cigar as well and George joins him in a smoke as they recount the negotiations and discuss the future. Drury-Lowe says that he will remain in Egypt to help establish their base while General Woolsely returns to England with the treaties and General Graham will sail off with the majority of the troops, who are now needed in South Africa. After cigars George heads out to the hotel and finding out from the concierge that Ruby had gone shopping, heads out to join his fiancee in a well deserved break.

Meanwhile, Ruby had quietly followed Ela around while she did her chores, lost in her own thoughts. There were quite a few things on her mind and all it took was just one word to remind her of some of them. She tried to snap out of it. "Is there anything I can do to help?" Ruby asked her guide. Ela says, "With the first two vendors no, but you might be of help with the third. He has an eye for European and American women. The more distracted he is the better price I should be able to get." Ruby smiled. "I'm sure I can help you with that. It's the least I can do after the nice day you've shown me."

The first two food transactions go rather quickly. They then find themselves in a canvas-awning style tent attached to a building where a tall thin Egyptian man with a full head of dark hair and a long thing goatee is approached by Ela. She introduces Ruby to him saying, "This is Jabak, the man who I spoke to you about. Jabak, this is Ruby west, a personal friend of our new Queen." With a dazzling smile, Ruby walked forward with her hand delicately extended. "It is a pleasure to meet you Jabak. I've been lucky enough to make many fine new trips on my visit here. What exactly do you sell here?"

Jabak says, "I sell primarily lamb and goat meat. But from the business side, I have others to raise the beasts. And what brings a beautiful woman such as you to this city on the verge of war?" She says, "Yes, I imagine the raising of the animals to be less than desirable. Actually, I was here before the fighting broke out. Poor timing for an expedition I suppose. But I have it on good authority that the fighting has stopped and peace will be agreed on soon. I look forward to being able to explore without the threat of war," she laughed. "You have such a beautiful country and culture, I would hate to miss any of it." "I would be happy to show it to you," he replies.

Ruby laughed lightly. "I very much appreciate the offer however I would never dare dream of taking you away from your business here. I am certain many people will have need of a great meal to celebrate with now that the threat of war is ceasing." He says "Do you know something? The last I heard, both armies were still at Tel el-Kabir and preparing to resume battle once this temporary truce falls apart." Ruby is suddenly reminded that Ela has planned to use the war as a means to obtain the best pricing.

Ruby says, "Oh, well, I just prefer to think positively that the truce will last. Hopefully we hear soon that it has so I can return to my exploring!" Jabal says, "So where would you like to explore? I can give you a private tour of anywhere in Egypt." Ela interjects, "Indeed, but before the two of you go running off I do have some business to attend to. I need to purchase 30 sheep, 12 goats, and approximately 100 of whatever fowl you currently have in stock. I will give you a better price than Orabi's army, who would minimally compensate you, or the British who would just take them."

Ruby smiled. "Business first, yes, I suppose that would be wise." She leaned back against the wall, waiting for business to be finished. The business is quickly concluded, with Ela getting favorable prices as he is far too distracted by Ruby. He then says to her "So, shall we dine together this evening?" Ruby smiles at the man. "Oh, I am sorry but I already have a dinner date tonight. But that was so sweet of you to offer. Thank you."

Ela says to him, "Yes, this evening Ruby is advising our new monarch on her upcoming investiture ceremony. When the Queen wants you one does not say know, even if the alternative is dinner with a handsome man such as yourself." Ruby kept smiling while she nodded in agreement. "It can be a difficult thing being a friend and advisor to the Queen but someone has to do it. Of course, that means being at their beck and call. Perhaps another time." Ruby nodded to Ela that she was ready to go.

Silver Moon

Chapter 138, "Beaujoulais Manor", September 14, 1882, 12:15 AM

They smell the burnt out sections of the building before they can see it. The carriage turns the courner and they approach the outer gate and wall surrounding the building. They can see that outer wall of the large three-story building is made of stone, with four round towers in each corner, one larger than the other three. One tower was severely damaged by the fire as was the central part of the main roof, with entire sections caved in. The fire appears to have been contained to the western half of the building, the eastern half looking untouched.

They also see that dozens of French soldiers have taken up positions at all of the outer gates. They approach and come to a stop. Callum exits the carriage and is approached by a man who identifies himself as Captain Henri Defense. Callum does not offer his name but says that he is a friend of the new owner, Maurice Beaujoulais, and requests an audience with the owner. A corporal is dispatched inside with the message. Abby was only surprised by the number of guards present until she remembered that the people who might want to get in here had specialized talents. She began to feel that perhaps there weren't enough. Of course, getting through the guards the magical way would draw all sorts of attention that the newly disgraced wizards wouldn't want. She waited quietly, not wanting to startle anyone who was on watch and armed.

It isn't long when Captain Defense returns with a trio of individuals. Abby does not know the tall bald man in a dark suit, but she immediately recognizes the other man as Maurice Beaujoulais. The woman accompanying them is the Meren, the newly appointed Egyptian Ambassador to France. Abby looked brightly out the still open carriage door. "Ambassador, such a pleasure to see you again. "And you as well, this is a pleasant surprise!" she exclaims.

Abby stepped down with a smile now that the soldiers knew she was welcome. She gave a nod that bordered on a bow to Beaujoulais and said, "I hope you don't mind us stopping by so late." Maurice says, "Not at all." He turns to the woman and says, "You already know the Ambassador." He then gestures to the tall man and says, "This is Adrien Lejoie, he served as Chief of Staff for my parents when they owned this building." "It's my pleasure to meet you," Abby said. "Congratulations on your homecoming."

The tall man LaJoie says in French-accented English, "Indeed." He then gestures to Meren and says with icy sarcasm, "And wait until you see what she's done with the place." Meren places her hands on her hips and says, "Sir, the damage was unavoidable. And if we hadn't done what we did then this would still be the property of that wizard group!" Abby smiled with wry sympathy. "We want a beloved place to stay just as it is in our memories, so we can pick up right where we left off. But even undamaged, the Wizards must have made many changes in the years they were here. The most important change the Ambassador made was getting the Wizards out. Personally, I like that one."

As they approach the main entrance LeJoie says, "There could have been ways to get them to leave that did not involve throwing fireballs throughout the building." Meren replies, "Yes, if we had been willing to kill the occupants. Our chief wizard would not allow that, he insisted that there be no fatalities. The fires that we set successfully separated most of the hundred-or-so building guards from the part of the mansion that held the wizard's most prize possession." LeJoie replies, "Absurd, you destroyed priceless and irreplaceable artwork just to save the worthless lives of mercenaries. Your priorities need to be reevaluated."

Abby lifted an eyebrow, glad the man was not looking in her direction at that particular moment. She was suddenly glad that this man was not one she was going to have to spend more than a short time with. Meren stops and turns directly towards him, "Sir, there were other considerations. The Egyptian Queen was essentially committing an act of war against France. Our preventing fatalities was also to minimize the extent of the international incident. We were fortunate that the French Council took the position they did, but there was no guarantee that would be the case. Furthermore, we had no way of knowing if French Army reinforcements would arrive while we were still inside. By having all entrance-ways into the part of the building we were at covered in magical fire we had the time we needed."

Abby adds, "And of course, fights with the guards would have endangered the mission to break the Weekly Wizards group. An injury, or worse the deaths of any of the Ambassador's group could have prevented them from returning to Egypt with the item, and Queen Neferka would not have had the power over the wizards she did. The group would be intact and the house would still be in their hands." Maurice says, "Indeed. We'll clean up the mess. At least it's ours again." Abby smiled and took the gentleman's arm. "Now, could I convince you to indulge in a bit of pride of ownership and give me a tour?"

The main entrance has charred and damaged doors that are currently open, the stained glass in the door windows all broken and melted. The entry foyer is a burnt-out husk of a room with charred walls, a few burnt tatters on the walls of what were once tapestries. Slate tiles litter the floor and the night sky can been seen through the gaping holes in the roof. He takes them to the left and says, "Let's start with the part of the building that is still intact." Abby replies, "That sounds lovely. Have you found that the wizards made a great many changes while they were here?"

He says, "Yes and no. My parent's rooms are largely intact from before, and most of the other bedrooms on the second and third floor now actually have better furnishings, many of the weekly wizards resided here apparently and wished to live in luxury. The first floor furnishings are now rather sparse, as that was were their small army of guards were quartered. Interestingly, we've found no magic in any of the rooms, many of which look to have been hastily ransacked. My guess is that is was by either the wizards on their way out, or the French officials before deciding to return it to me, or possibly both. They must have swept through with 'Detect Magic' spells going and grabbed anything that lit up."

Abby says, "That wouldn't surprise me, the French officials, I mean. It might have been nice to find a few valuable bits left though, if for nothing else to offset the costs of the repairs." Maurice replies, "Oh, I'm sure that there are LOTS of magical valuables left behind, they are just well hidden. Remember, most of the wizard's group leaders died in Egypt, so would not have been able to retrieve anything they left behind here. Nor were they the type to leave their precious items out in the open. And it's not like I am in any rush to locate them, since I plan to stay here for the long-term."

Abby asks, "So will you leave your life of adventure behind and come home? Or perhaps just a long vacation in Paris to reacquaint yourself with it?" Maurice says, "Oh, I'll keep my job, but I haven't taken a vacation in years and am due. Plus my team needed a new base in this city anyway, as your place is no longer available to us Callum." Cal replies, "Who are you kidding? You've waited decades to get this place back, you wouldn't want to stay anywhere else." They tour the western half of the building, which is fully intact, with only a minimum of smoke smell in it. Each of the three floors hosts dozens of bedrooms as well as a dining room central on each floor.

Abby says, "It's certainly big enough for a base of operations. How did you ever fill it?" Maurice says, "My uncle and the my father ran the import/export business out of this mansion. The first floor rooms were usually mostly filled with product." "Well, that would explain that then. And it's a shrewd business move, saving the cost of a separate warehouse." Abby continued to chat pleasantly with him as he gave them the tour of the house. Somehow, she felt comfortable with Beaujolias, at her own level rather than needing to impress people of noble birth and walk on pins and needles.

Callum tells Maurice about what had transpired earlier that evening with the rogue wizards, and asks if they can stay the night. Maurice is elated and shows then to a pair of adjacent bedrooms on the second floor. "Callum, this one belonged to Prosper Merimee, please let me know if you find anything interesting left behind." He then gestures to the one next to it and says, "The actress Sarah Bernhardt stayed in this one, as you already have experience filling in for her it should suit just fine." He then dismisses Mr. LaJoie to go locate fresh linens for both bedrooms.

Continuing the tour back towards the more damaged sections of the building Maurice says, "I wanted to get rid of him before we see Miss Meren's handiwork. There is no point in her being on the receiving end of his criticism, and she will be more free to explain exactly what transpired without his interruptions." They reach the long burnt out corridor stretching north-to-south between the main entrance on the south wall and rear entrance on the north wall and then head to the foyer by the rear entrance, which looks very much the mirror of the damaged main entrance.

[DM's Note: The scenario that she describes had been designed as the climax battle for the module, but the party went in other directions instead. That is why a group of NPC's and former PC's went instead.]

Meren says, "We arrived outside at the rear entrance. Manuel Gonzales had previously viewed it from a distance so was able to transport us directly to that spot. There were six guards on duty, but Mr. Hardin managed to shoot all of them before any could react. He shot to wound and used some magical rounds given to him by Gonzales that induced instant sleep. I stood lookout while Hardin hid the guards in the shrubbery by the inside north wall and Gonzales retrieved the shrunken centaur Cetan and the Nubian Prince from his satchel and enlarged them to their normal height. Gonzales then used a spell to deactivate the magic from the door and we entered, with the Nubian Prince knocking unconscious the two guards inside the room, who were then moved out to the northern shrubbery.

We then went down the hallway to the south and performed the same procedure at the main entrance, rendering the night guards both inside and out unconscious and moving them away from the building. We had inside information about the wizard's routine, and knew that a pair of the weekly wizards were in a sealed room in the central eastern section of the building with the artifact. We had to prevent the plethora of guards sleeping in the western barracks from heading that way, so Cetan and I used druidic spells to remove all of the humidity from both entrance ways and also the main central corridor here that connects to hallways west. We then moved east while Hardin laid down well placed shots with pyrotechnic rounds, setting off fireballs in those building sections, to also keep out the potential enemy reinforcements."

As they continue eastward she says, "The Nubian Prince focused on rendering unconscious the next series of guards we encountered. We had a magic 'Bag of Holding' which Hardin would then stow the unconscious guards inside, as we couldn't leave them behind in a burning building. Cetan and I created wind spells to keep the smoke from the fires directed westward. Gonzales continued to locate and disarm magical traps and open magically sealed doorways. Finding the secret room was easy, as the route of the magical traps led us right there."

"This sounds extremely well planned out. How did you deal with the wizards guarding the artifact?" Abby asked. She says, "That was actually the easiest part. As the only four wizards left in Paris were relatively new members of the group they would not be very powerful, and therefore less likely to see through an illusion. And back in Egypt Gonzales had seen enough of Daguerre and Chevrul to create their likenesses and voices. So he simply opened the door and had them walk in, while the five of us stayed hidden outside the door. The illusions then walked to the opposite side of the room while talking to wizards, who continued to watch them and turned their backs to us. A pair of sleep bullets from Hardin's guns did the rest."

They reach the aforementioned room and Meren states an incantation then the door is opened. Inside is a vast magically lit treasure room, filled with shelves of jewelry and gems, a gold throne in the room center, two finely carved beds with mattresses with matching end tables, and a clothing rack with fancy robes, gowns and suits. Also Standing on the far wall are Egyptian statues and other Egyptian artifacts. Maurice lets out a gasp at the vast amount of treasure. Meren turns to Abby and Callan and says "We sealed it when we left, only the five of us knew how to open it, so nothing here was taken by anybody."

She then adds, "And yes, it was very well planned out. Mr. Gonzales said that he lived here in Paris for several years, where he and his great-nephew spent a considerable amount of time debating and devising methods to accomplish this. He had apparently recently revised the plan to potentially use his friends, the American group known as Arcade's Gang, as the assault team. That is why he specifically selected the four of us to accompany him. We apparently had a comparable group of skill sets. However, he made it clear that he was not to get the credit. This was a matter between Egypt and France, so the three North Americans were not to be credited as anything but being associates and assistans. If successful, then I would be team leader working for Neferka. If it was a failure the Nubian Prince was prepared to take the blame and say that Neferka knew nothing about it."

Abby let out a low whistle. "I shouldn't be surprised, but... wow. You're trusting us a great deal showing us this, and telling us about the arrangements. I know I don't understand the whole situation in Egypt, but the Nubian Prince being willing to take responsibility is remarkable." She says, "That was another reason why he was with us. Nubia is technically a semi-autonomous section of Egypt, giving him the flexibility of being part of an officially sanctioned mission or being a rogue operative who acted impulsively. The royal ogre swore his loyalty to Neferka back when she was only a Princess, now that she is the Pharaoh, there is nothing that he would not do for her." Abby says, "Queen Neferka is lucky to have the loyalty of such a man." Maurice says, "She is indeed".

Meren says, "And I am fortunate to be able to carry out her wishes as Egypt's Ambassador. The fact that the French Council is headed up by a Druidess greatly helps the situation. Furthermore, Mr. Gonzales clued me into a secret that the French Druidess would prefer to not be made public, which gives me even more leverage in negotiations with her." Abby's eyebrows raised at that and Meren continues. "Maurice and Callum already know this, and I am sure that you can also keep it private. It is believed that she was rescued last year from a French prison by her loyal druidic followers while in reality the rescue was conducted by Gonzales's associates, the Americans known as Arcade's Gang." Maurice adds, "My friend Nemo also assisted them, with the Nautalus."

Maurice turns to Meren and says, "I will leave you here to complete your appointed task. You are also welcome to stay the night if you wish." She replies, "I may, as I would like to spend some more time with Abigail." Maurice replies, "Very well, I will have Mr. LaJoie prepare you a room." The three exit, leaving Meren behind in the treasure room. Maurice explains, "She is taking an inventory of plundered Egyptian treasure. Champollion put them at four separate locations around Paris. She spent yesterday and this morning inventorying the Louvre. Tomorrow she will go to Versailles. After that will be the College de France, where he and Mr. Faucault were on the faculty."

As they continue Callum says, "So, when are you going to tell me that I've been discharged from her Majesty's Secret Service?" Maurice says, "You knew?" He then gestures casually to Abby. Callum replies, "My Uncle notified me of the newspaper article and Knighthood. I'm now too public to continue in that task, plus the French wizards had discovered that as well. And you may speak freely in front of Miss Marsters, I will keep no further secrets from her." "I have top level security clearance," she said with a wink.

Maurice states, "Well, I convinced Campion Bond to actually change your status to 'Inactive'. That means that you no longer work for Her Majesty unless she or Mr. Bond choose to recall you." Callum says, "But that means that I still need to find a new job." Maurice replies, "Any thoughts about that?" Callum answers, "I was thinking of asking Abby's boss, Wilamina Parker." Maurice answers, "A wise choice, the Parkers are good people and could probably use somebody with your skill set."

"World travel, good company... Employment with the AGELESS agency is always exciting," she agreed. "I take it you know the Parkers, Monsieur Beaujolais?" Maurice smiles and says, "You might say that. I believe that Mr. Parker may have shared with you a list of the fifty-two wizards and their background. It was from me that he obtained that listing. The information sharing worked both ways, he had a friend who was actually one of the lower-level wizards who he helped recruit as one of my operatives." Abby says, "He shared some of that, but honestly, there is no way I would remember all of them and all their histories," she smiled. "My mind is still boggled by all the people we had to keep track of while we were in Egypt."

Callum says, "You can put that behind you now, it's finally over." They return to the elaborate rooms that fresh bed linens have been laid our for. Maurice wishes them pleasant dreams. "I have no idea how late it is even is. But it's been an exhausting evening and I'm ready to sleep." Seeing they were alone in the corridor, she leaned forward and embraced him, leaning against him. "Goodnight my dear." He replies, "And Goodnight to you"

Silver Moon

Chapter 139, "Alone Time", September 13, 1882, 4:45PM

George had finally found Ruby in the maze of a market place and came up behind her and her companion, George could only assume it was the Ela that he heard of from Queen Neferka that Ruby was with. "And what trouble are you two ladies getting into" he says with a grin. "George!" Ruby exclaimed happily, obviously surprised. "We were just out shopping and actually, talking about the plans for tonight. This very nice gentleman," she waves towards the Sheikh, "Invited me to dinner but I told him we already had plans with the Queen." She bounced over to him, took his hand and kissed his cheek. "I am happy you are here, I've missed you. How did your meeting go?" she asked curiously.

"Better than ever could be expected. There were some grumbles from both sides, but I bullied, subtly threatened, and otherwise manipulated as good an outcome as I think anyone could hope for." says George happily, returning Ruby's kiss. He turns to the businessman Jabak Sheikh, "Oh my apologies sahibi, I am Miss West's genius, millionaire, playboy, philanthropist, fiancee, George Eastman" says George rather cheekily, but he was after all in a very good mood, as he extends his hand.

Ruby giggled, "And so humble too. I am glad to hear that today went well. I'm not certain I could handle any more saving of the world right now." "Exactly, we have earned a vacation that is for sure." The poor businessman is a bit stunned by the arrival and George takes advantage of the silence. "Well we do have dinner plans and unfortunately, we do not control the guest list or we would invite you. So nice to meet you, enjoy your day." says George as he hustles Ruby and Ela out.

Ruby chuckled as George dragged her away. "What's the matter darling, you couldn't wait to get me to yourself?" George laughs. "Well, I wouldn't disabuse you of that notion my dear. So in addition to that I could see the mans designs. He was.....leaning." says George with a smirk. "And I suppose thirdly then, yes I am done at the hotel and thought we could catch a bite to eat now. I needed to leave the hotel and get some fresh air. Leave the enclosed places and heavy atmosphere. Find a more beautiful sight." he says holding up her chin and looking at her face. Ruby smiled back up at him. "Well, aren't you sweet?" She stood on her toes and kissed him softly before breaking eye contact.

"George, I need to introduce you to my new friend Ela. She works for the hotel. George and Ela exchange pleasantries before George mentions food again. Ruby replies, "I didn't eat that long ago but you know me, I'm always hungry. I've been hungry since we got to Egypt, the food here is delicious! Well, maybe not as good as Dorita's but still excellent. It's a good thing I ordered some new dresses, my dresses are getting tight," she teased. They release Ela and send her back to the hotel while they find a small restaurant to enjoy a mid day snack.

Ruby animatedly tells George all about the shopping she did they day, including having her own personal shoppers, visiting the baths with the Queen after she finished with George and the luxurious lunch they enjoyed. George doesn't want to speak about his earlier meeting in public so they don't. After they eat they return to the hotel, where George sits down to do some paperwork from the earlier meeting while Ruby takes a nap.

Later in the evening Ruby woke slowly, stretching her arms way over her head. It suddenly felt like a real luxury sleeping twice in a day and in a bed no less. To Ruby, it felt like forever since Ruby and George had spent any quality alone time. The previous evening they finally gotten to sleep in a bed, together, but they were both so tired they just passed out. Ruby glanced over at George, who was seated in a large cushioned chair over by the window, still reading over some paperwork. Ruby dragged herself out of bed and smiling she walked over to him, squeezing herself in between his arms and sitting in his lap. She looked into his eyes, the same smile on her face. "Hi," she said simply.

George smiled and put the paperwork down on the floor. No matter how important it was, no matter how urgent, when Ruby needed attention, it did no good to try to avoid her. Nothing got in the way of what that woman wanted. "Hi back," says a grinning George pulling her in for a long kiss. "I take it you wanted more than just a place to sit?" "A place to sit and a kiss are always a good start!" She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him again before pulling her face away. "I had a delightful nap. And then I started thinking, well, maybe we could go out tonight? We haven't had any time alone to catch the sights. We haven't had any time alone to just breathe! So, a little date night? I don't really care what we do, as long as we are together."

George stared into Ruby's eyes for a moment. "Alright my love. I can get the rest of this done later. The bulk of the work is done for the Queen. There are a few little details to take care of. In fact there are a few things to be taken care of out on the Red Sea. Why not make a date weekend out of it? Let's get away from the city and all the work. They have beautiful beaches there," said George. "A whole weekend!" Ruby squealed and squirmed in George's lap in excitement. "Yes! That is perfect!" She squeezed his neck tighter and kissed his cheek. "I have so much to pack! You could finish your work while I pack and..." Ruby paused, considering. “I can ask Ela for a place to stay, she should know of somewhere good."

Ruby suddenly scrunched up her nose. "What do you have to do there?" "Ela? The girl from earlier? As for what I have to do there, well it is an extension of my work for the Queen negotiating an end to this war. So I need to just inspect the canal itself and get things underway for the new Canal Security Force. That is where we are putting a portion of the rebels we don't disband." replied George. "So it is a working vacation, but that won't take but a day, or maybe half a day and the rest I have with you." “Ela is the hotel’s um, concierge thingie, yes, from earlier. You know, she knows all the shopping and restaurants and stuff like that. She’s the one who took me shopping. According to the Queen, James might offer her a job.”

George raised an eyebrow in the ‘what are you talking about’ manner. “Oh right. So, the Queen told me that James, you know my grandmother’s husband, which I guess kind of makes him my grandfather, sorta…” Ruby paused here as a painful look crossed her face. She shook her head and kept going, “So he asked for a meeting with her. Remember Nana went to meet him on his ship? Anyway, he wants to set up a business here. Probably because of the, you know,” she leans in and whispers softly, “Gate.”

She pulls her head back to look in his eyes. He is listening intently so she continues. “So he is going to set up a business here and the Queen thinks Ela would be good at working for him. Since she knows what is going on around here, it’s probably a good match. She seems smart and levelheaded. Of course, what would I know about that?” Ruby laughed. George replies, "Indeed. Well I have been considering setting up a business here as well, for more mundane things, like supporting the Queen. Perhaps I can steal Ela away to help get my business going." Ruby chuckled. “That poor girl won’t know what hit her. What kind of business were you thinking of setting up? Hasn’t she used enough of your knowledge for her benefit already?”

George gave Ruby an appraising look before speaking slowly. “Well, yes she has used much of my knowledge for her benefit. This would be….mutually beneficial. I am planning to build a munitions factory here. My goal is to provide modern firearms for the army so that they can defend themselves on a more equal footing with other nations who wish to take advantage of them.” “Munitions? You mean, guns?” Ruby looked confused. “Darling, I know you have had many an innovative and clever idea before, but this idea doesn’t seem much like you. Guns?”

“Yes, my love, guns. Rifles, pistols, even artillery. It does no good to go to all this trouble to save Egypt, to leave Her unequipped to defend Herself. The military must modernize, and to do that they need comparable equipment. Only by creating a strong Egypt, will the other colonial powers not interfere. I know it is not ….the best industry to be in, and I don’t foresee this becoming a huge part of my businesses, but I feel that NOT doing this is a disservice to Neferka and all we have accomplished here,” replies George. Ruby just raised her eyebrow at George. “This will be a conversation for another time I think. I’d like to know more about your plans but it will probably be a very long conversation.”

Ruby paused while she considered what to say next and then continued slowly. “There is something else that happened; I haven’t had a chance to tell you yet. I’m not really supposed to tell anyone but…” George can see the discomfort return in Ruby’s posture. She hugs him for a moment, taking refuge in his arms. He feels her sigh deeply before letting go. “My teacher Mr. Gonzales came to me at breakfast in disguise. He was… he was… was saying goodbye.”

Ruby’s lips tremble as she speaks. “He told me about something that happened a long time ago. The short version is, he killed someone. During the war situation. The best friend of that person promised revenge on Mr. Gonzales. He says he will kill him if he ever sees him again.” She waited for George’s response. George thinks back the says, “Civil War? Mexican-American War? Doesn’t matter. Why on earth would Gonzales be fearful for his life? I am sure he can handle anything that this person can bring to bear.”

“It was the one at the Alamo. Is that the Mexican-American War?” Ruby shrugged. “Mr. Gonzales was one of Santa Anna’s chief wizards at the time. He fought against the American wizard and I guess when he killed him he didn’t do it nicely. Well, that person who Mr. Gonzales killed was my grandmother’s true love, her first fiancé. Not that she doesn’t love James, but…” Ruby stopped and sighed again. “My grandmother lost the love of her life. After that she was with James.”

George says, “So Gonzales killed Mina’s fiancé. And then who is it who wants to kill him?” “The best friend of the man he killed. He swore a lifelong promise to hunt down Mr. Gonzales and kill him. That man is arriving here today, which is why my teacher says he must go. That man is arriving with my grandmother.” Ruby’s lips were pulled in a tight line as she looked expectantly at George. “Ok” says George slowly. “I don’t really understand. I am sure Gonzales can handle anyone who comes after him, he is quite capable. And if he wants to avoid the conflict, well we can handle it. But wait, why is Mina coming with him?” asks George curiously.

“Oh yes, he can handle himself against most threats. However he has chosen not to defend himself if it comes down to it.” Ruby looked up into George’s eyes, her own hazel green eyes, cloudy and sad. “The person who seeks revenge is my grandfather, James. I think I mentioned he’s not my real grandfather? My mother was born to Nana and her first love, Andrew. And that is the man that my teacher killed. My REAL grandfather. He killed my real grandfather.” Saying the words out loud seemed to make it more real, and Ruby’s eyes began to water up.

George pulls Ruby in closer, hugging her tightly to him. "Now, now my love. No need for that. So in 60 years James' thirst for blood hasn't diminished huh? Wasn't this in a war? Stuff happens in wars, always has and always will. I mean look at the Civil War, brother against brother right? But after the war families put the differences aside and though they had been trying to kill each other before, resumed life. I don't know that James has that right honestly." says George narrowing his eyes as he thinks "Oh he can claim it alright, but I don't think it is a righteous claim. During the war yes, after the war, no.

George asks, "Does your grandmother know about this feud? And of Gonzales' meaning to you? She might have a better claim on vengeance than James. Besides James seems to have taken Deuteronomy 25:5 to heart." George looks at the confusion on Ruby's face before reciting, “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her." George continues on, "Anyway, why don't I talk to James. It may not do any good if the lust for vengeance has burned this long, then again, I am rather persuasive," adds George with a grin that couldn't help but make Ruby giggle, tears and all.

Ruby released the breath she didn’t know she was holding. “Thank you baby,” she said before leaning into a soft kiss. “Yes, it was during war time. I offered to talk to my grandmother, I was sure she would listen to me. But Mr. Gonzales was insistent, he said he doesn’t want me talking to her because he doesn’t want to bring it up and cause more pain for her. That I understand, not wanting to bring up memories that could be painful." She was quiet, not elaborating on that. “Maybe that would work, you speaking to James. I just… it was hard to say goodbye to Mr. Gonzales, I didn’t want to and I won’t stay away from him but I don’t want James doing anything to hurt him. This is just terrible!”

She buried her face into George’s shoulder for a long moment before sighing again. “But I know you can help me make it right.” Another long pause. “What the heck were you talking about brothers and husbands and wives…” Ruby looked up at George with her eyebrows furrowed together, confused. "Oh, it is from a holy book from a small religion that died out some time ago. It was a rule that if your brother died you had to marry his widow.

Which brings us back to James. I will talk to James. If he won't listen to me he won't listen to anyone, well maybe Mina, which is the last option. But you should not have to choose between two friends because of an old grudge. It is hanging onto anger like that that leads to wars. Texas did win out and joined the Union after all. Andrew sacrificed himself for the liberty of the Republic and he knew that was a risk when he served. James has no legal, moral, ethical, or monetary right to exact any kind of revenge on Gonzales. And I will tell him so. Further I may tell him that if he DOES harm Gonzales, I will personally shoot him."

George pauses at Ruby's gasp, "Ok, not lethally. But still he cannot go around as judge, jury and executioner in a lawful society. Lastly and most importantly, his ridiculous old oath is causing my dear Ruby distress. And I will not have that. I will remove any distress." George puts his finger under Ruby's chin and lifts her head for a gentle kiss. "By any means necessary." Ruby smiled up at George. “You are so sweet.” She kissed him again and snuggled closer in his lap. “Well, I don’t think shooting James will solve anything, after all, he is sort of my grandfather now. I’m afraid though… of saying something and of not saying anything. Nana’s been through enough. Especially after this crazy week, we all need to relax.” Ruby looked out the window dreamily, “I wonder what my grandfather was like.”

“Well, not saying anything doesn’t change anything, so better to say something. But I am sure, now that you know, Mina can tell you as could James come to think of it, about Andrew,” replies George. “Yes, she could. But I am afraid to bring up these memories for her." She paused for a very long moment. "Like I said, talking or even thinking about lost loves can be… very painful. Maybe I could ask James.” She shrugs. “I will think on it and maybe see what comes from you talking to James. For now, let’s think happier thoughts.”

She runs a finger across his cheek. “I’d like to have a look around here too, before or after or during our little vacation. I’d like to see the city or perhaps Cairo if we could manage it. I want to know what it’s like to live here, in a city that accepts magic for what it is.” “Of course my love. I would like to see the pyramids in the day and without anyone shooting at us,” laughs George. “After this weekend there are still a few things to get rolling, but I am sure we can get some sightseeing in.”
“Okay then! You prepare whatever you have to prepare for and I will… pack?” She laughed but still seemed slightly worried.

She glanced out the window for a long moment, her smile fading slightly. “When will you try to talk to James? He should be arriving today. I would feel badly seeing him and cornering him right away but it would be better for me to not to have to worry about this. My teacher said he would be around for a few days and I know how to contact him. It would be nice to be able to give him pleasant news.” “Oh, I think cornering him, or rather ambushing him right away is a good idea. That way he doesn’t get wind of anything and get his nose out of joint too soon. And, yes that will put your pretty little head at peace,” says George, tickling Ruby in the ribs. She squealed and pulled away while trying to hit George to make him stop, instead he grabbed her hand and pulled her back to him, planting a long, deep kiss on her soft lips. Ruby pulled away, a look of love on her face as she stroked George’s face.

Her large grin suddenly returned as she asked curiously, “So how did today go? I mean, you know, saving the world or whatever you did?” George sighed. “It went well enough. The old adage is that if nobody is happy it is a good compromise. All in all I think I came out with less than the Queen wanted but far more than she could have expected. It was a fine line to walk I will tell you.”

George paused for a moment. “Here imagine this, you have three sticks of dynamite in your left hand, and you have a handful of incendiary rounds in your right hand. You have a lit cigarette in your mouth, and you have to walk a six-inch wide board across Rattlesnake Gulch back in Promise City. That was pretty much what today was. I nearly set the dynamite off today too,” chuckled George. “I pulled out a wild card on the British that they weren’t expecting. I don’t know if they thought I was bluffing or not, I am not sure if I was still. I was prepared to see it through if need be. But it put them on their heels and gave me leverage I didn’t think I was going to have, and honestly that the British aren’t used to giving up. But in the end, yes, I saved Egypt, prevented further war, and proved yet again the pen is mightier than the sword,” said George as he looked into Ruby’s eyes. “Of course it doesn’t hurt to have a sword in the other hand when you are writing,” he said smiling.

Ruby continued to look at George with large, bright green eyes, admiring him as he spoke. She laughed and tapped his nose, “You really did save the world. Wow. I’ve never done anything important like that.” She scrunched her nose and tapped her full red lips, “Well, I mean, I did help save Promise City from the Earps and Cowboy Gang and also from some unwanted attention from Aphrodite and Johnny Ringo and Ares. And an Earth Spirit. And some Vampires, including Colin Turner. But that was small peanuts compared to… THIS.” She waved her arm around the room, like that would indicate something. “I’m so proud of you.”

She leaned in for another long kiss. “Now, we should get working on whatever we have to do, so we can leave tonight. Or soon. Don’t distract me!” She giggled, climbing out of George’s lap, trying to decide where to start and what to bring. George laughed, "You are the distracting one woman!" he said as he pinched her butt. Ruby squealed at the pinch and started towards her closet. "Pack up and we will leave tonight, I want to talk to James before we leave, but after that we will head out if we can. Maybe let Mina know I want to talk to him ASAP so we can meet up," suggested George getting out his own suitcase.

Ruby watched him out of the corner of her eye and smiled. It was going to be a good couple of days. Ruby spends some time packing things up, but not everything as she isn't sure exactly when they will be leaving. "Don't forget the Queen has invited us to the ball celebrating her wedding. She may need my help so I might not be able to leave today. We'll find out at dinner tonight when it is and if and how long she needs me. We could always take our trip after. I'd like to see Nana today, I suppose while you are chatting with James."

Ruby paused, looking up at George, "Please don't do anything crazy, I am still really excited about AGELESS and I do not want to do anything to upset MY relationship with James or my grandmother or AGELESS. To add to that, I do not want either of them not liking you either! I had enough trouble with certain people not approving of my last boyfriend and I would like to avoid that." Ruby laughed. "Not that you are ANYTHING like him. So don't take that in the wrong way."

"Oh you know me Constance, always proper, always polite. Until I don't get my way" adds George with a grin. "I learned that from you. I will be very frank and candid. If James won't listen to reason, perhaps he shouldn't lead us. If he or your grandmother hold the fact that I approached him over you or I, that merely belittles themselves. But i don't think that will happen. I am very persuasive after all. I did finally convince the infamous and elusive Ruby West to marry me." grins George

Ruby stopped what she was doing before she just stared at George for a long moment. Then she started laughing and laughing. She finally got ahold of herself to speak. "Yes, I suppose you did, didn't you?" She laughed again. "Quite persuasive you are. I suppose then I should just try not to worry." She leaned forward and kissed him. "Let's go downstairs and inquire about James and Nana."

Ruby takes George by the hand and drags him to the lobby. She looks around for the owners or the Queen's entourage, someone with information. They discover that a coach has just now been called for to pick up the Parker's at the train depot, the train from Alexandria expected to arrive in the next half-hour. "Oh George, let's go on the coach and meet them at the train station. It will be a nice surprise for them I think, and we can find out what James has been up to."George agrees and they set off to find the coach before it leaves.

They share the ride with Hakar, Sabah's cousin, who has now been elevated to a staff position with Queen Neferka. He had been sent to greet the Parkers. "Good afternoon Sir," Ruby said with a smile. "I trust you are pleased with your new job? It's always nice to move up in the world, no?" He says, "It is indeed, although I am sorry that it happened at the cost of my cousin's youth. She seems pleased to have merged with her chosen deity, but I will miss the girl that she was." Ruby nodded, "Yes your cousin made a very great sacrifice, I am sure you are proud of her."

They soon arrive at the station and see that the train has already arrived. James and Mina are up on the platform near the baggage care. Mina is very uncharacteristically berating a large muscular porter with an unkempt beard and mustache who is attempting to unload their crates, trunks and baggage. The man looks vaguely familiar and they hear Mina tell him that he is "incompetent" and that she plans to "report him to his supervisor." When Ruby saw her grandmother and James a huge smile came to her face but it dimmed as she got closer and heard her grandmother yelling at a porter.

"Oh my goodness, whatever is going on here?" She said loudly while stepping next to her grandmother. Mina loudly exclaims, in both English and then Arabic, "This man dropped our trunk and clearly has no idea what he is doing. He may have size and strength, but has not one once of brains in his head. He should be discharged from this position before he accidentally kills somebody!" Upon closer examination Ruby feels that she should recognize the man but cannot place where. Ruby stares at the man critically, trying to remember where she knows him from but particularly looks for any magic disguises.

Recognition then strikes. The previous week, when the party first arrived in Zakazik by horseback, this same man was employed as the Captain of the Guard at the main north gate to the city. He was the one that attempted to get a destitute man to give up his teenage daughter as their extended family's entrance fee into Zakazik. That was resolved when Princess Neferka, also entering the city then, gave the man coins as payment for the impoverished family. "Even this is too good for that scum", Ruby thought. "Have some care, you clumsy oaf. I am certain there are many other more competent people lined up for a job like this and you can easily end up in the gutter." She thinks "He deserves much more ire than this but I have a feeling this one will get what he is due."

Silver Moon

Chapter 140, "Neferka's Gift", September 13, 1882, 7:30PM

Ruby turned to her grandmother and hugged her. "Nana! I hope you had a a pleasant trip and enjoyed some alone time with James." Then she turned to James. She went to hug him, paused, then actually hugged him though she felt something holding her back. Something bothered her. Of course it's Mr Gonzales, she thought, I hope George can fix things. "I trust you also had a pleasant trip James? Hopefully no trouble?" She asked politely.

James replies, "None at all, our ship The Magnificence is safe and secure in Alexandria and our associates are making tentative arrangements in that city for AGELESS to establish itself there, assuming that Queen Neferka gives her blessing." Ruby smiled knowingly. "I'm fairly certain the Queen will agree. And George here will be setting up some business too. I suppose this is good news as I'll always be able to come back and visit with my friend the Queen. Which now that I've said it out loud seems kind of funny, considering the last Queen wanted us dead," she laughed.

Mina says, "Yes, well Neferka's mother is now out-of-the-picture. She will live out her retirement in Cairo but it is unlikely that the woman will have any real influence over her daughter. The new Pharaoh appears to be a force to be reckoned with, far from the impulsive and flighty girl that she first presented herself as." James adds, "Sounds like a couple of red-heads I know." Ruby tried to keep her laugh in as answered with a raised eyebrow. "And which part are you referring to James, being a force to be reckoned with or being impulsive and flighty?" "All of the above," is his reply. She playfully widened her eyes, "Implusive and flighty? Why I never..." Then she cracked up laughing. "I'll at least agree on the force to be reconkened with, especially when Nana and I are together."

They reach the carriage and the luggage is loaded on board. They are soon headed back towards the Grand Hotel. James comments, "This city has changed quite a bit in the last half-century." "How has the city changed?" She asked while she gazed out the window. He says, "More prosperous, more built up. When I was here last there was no Grand Hotel, no buildings larger than two-stories for that matter. The city had maybe a half-dozen very wealthy families in nice houses, everybody else was poor and barely getting by, with nothing in between. This city now appears to have a middle-class and while some of the outlying areas look to be somewhat impoverished there is nobody starving on the streets."

"Wait until you see the next half century" adds George offhandedly. "I spoke with the Queen personally regarding AGELESS, I don't foresee there being any issues on that front. Things will be fine. Were you informed of the airship plate I donated to the Navy?" "Also there is a more,....personal matter I do need to speak with you about. And urgently. I think it might be best done privately however." James says, "We should be able to find a private place to talk at the hotel."

Ruby comments, "Hopefully the Queen will keep improving on that. She seems very kind. Actually that is just what happened with that disgusting man Nana was yelling at, I'm sure she told you how the Queen saved that young girl. I shopped in the city and it was certainly bustling. I hope it stays prospering for my new friend's sake. I believe we will be invited to her wedding celebration, the ball, so you can meet her then James. Do you know when Abby will return? I would imagine she wouldn't want to miss it." James says, "I do not know about Abigail, but I do like the sound of attending a wedding. The last wedding I attended in this region of the world was my own." "After what we all went through here, we could use a good party. And it will be nice to have you and some of our other AGELESS friends there too."

Ruby was quiet, biting her lip as she gazed out the window. Finally she took a big breath in and out and gathered her courage. "Nana, what was my grandfather like?" She turns to Ruby and says, "He was the most wonderful man who I ever knew, no offense James." "None taken," he replies, "I concur. When I was in Zakazik a half-century ago it was with Mina and Andrew, as well as my fiance at that time." "I'd like to hear more about what he was like someday, if you'll talk about him Nana." Ruby paused before speaking. "What happened to your fiancé, James?" He replies, "Honorine and I went in different ways. She later met another man named Morel who she married and had two daughters with. He later died and she remarried the French author Jules Verne, a union which resulted in a son Michael, who happens to be my son's best friend."

"What a small world it ends up being. I guess you don't mind still having that... Attachment? To her I mean? I guess why would you, you have my Nana, the most wonderful woman in the world." Ruby smiled at her grandmother but was lost in her own thoughts while the others continued to chat. They arrive back at the hotel and Ruby asks, "So what does everyone have to do today? George suggests that he and James go have their discussion once James is settled into his room. They agree to meet in a half-hour. After everyone discusses plans, Ruby heads off to find the Queen and see if she is available.

George soon meet James in the lobby of the hotel. "Thanks for coming James, you had lunch?" James replied he had. "Good how about a cigar and some brandy?" says George as he heads into the lounge next to the bar." James and George take a seat and order cigars and snifters. James tells George "I am extremely pleased with how well you and Mina's team comported yourselves on this quest. The results are far better than I could have imagined." "Well thank you James. I don't think we had any idea the scope would be so large, or that the French wizards were so ambitious. And we still need to find the Atlantean artifact that they were supposedly after."

James replies, "Indeed. I knew that the French were fielding a team to the area, but I expected it to be a half-dozen, not eight teams of a half-dozen. I believe that the Atlantean connection they were seeking was the doorway itself, which we did find. Clearly they were close, as the gateway was at one of the four sites that they were searching." George laughs, "Oh yeah, I almost forgot. I sealed the doorway back. They couldn't have found it if they wanted to. Well some of them might have."

James replies, "Their mistake was having Champollion running this dig, as it was where he explored a half-century earlier. He hadn't found it then, so was unlikely to find it now. A fresh set of eyes at this site probably could have uncovered it. Thankfully the only other real archaeologists on their team were busy running the teams in Tanis and Nubia." "Well, ego does blind one at times. I do need to take that barrier down so we can re-use the portal." says George taking a long sip of his brandy.

George continues, "Well to business I suppose. The is a specific purpose to my asking you here today James. While it is important to discuss the future of AGELESS, and the resolution of the remaining French. But there is a much more urgent and personal reason to speak to you. As you know, you will soon be my grandfather-in-law." George pauses to smile at James "We will be family essentially. So please keep that in mind as I broach this subject. I am approaching this subject out of concern for my fiancee and her well being. Fair enough preamble?"

James says, "Indeed, and I think I know where you are going. I recognize that this current trip put her in far more danger than you had anticipated. The Egyptian King threatening to have her executed was clearly not what you two had signed up for." George chuckled "Well, yes that was a bit of a quandary. Though that was due to her grandmother in truth. And while that was not optimal, Ruby is more than capable of taking care of herself in such circumstances. Rather this is something out of her control. Rather this is something within your control, but which affects her greatly. You have a vendetta out for a man, a man who killed your best friend, yes? Manual Gonzalez. The same man who is Ruby's mentor, friend and protector. A man who is being driven away by your lust for vengeance. A man who out of honor and respect is avoiding a woman he counts a friend. Because you are related to Ruby so you show up and he won't.

Listen James. I understand the desire for justice. But the death occurred during war. People die in war. You don't get to hunt them down for those actions. Hell, by that metric, after the civil war, we would have had another million men die after the war. Every side feels they are in the right for any war. I don't care about the Alamo. We could debate Imperialism versus territorial rights all night. I don't care. That is now history, literally and figuratively. What matters is that your inability to let this go, to move on, to deal with this in a rational manner is impacting Ruby. And I will not tolerate it. You must make peace with this. You have to settle this as a gentleman with Gonzales. Peacefully. You have no right to continue to seek vengeance. You have no right to his blood, you have no right to harass him. And it will stop, and stop now. This is distressing Ruby, and it will stop." says George very seriously, before taking a long drink of bourbon.

James appears taken aback by George's comments. James does take the drink sitting before him before replying. "Mr. Eastman, I know far more about war than you. I served on board the U.S.S. Constitution during the War of 1812 as well as serving my country during the American Civil War. As for Mr. Gonzales, the man he killed, Andrew Dawson, was more than just my best friend. What you and Ruby are unaware of is that he was also Ruby's Grandfather, not the man who Mina married after she discovered she was with child. If Ruby knew that fact it would surely change how she feels about the man.

And as for Gonzales being driven away by me, that clearly is not the case. From what Mina has told me he was very much interacting with Ruby and Mina here in Egypt, in direct violation of the promise he made to me just two months ago. Despite the vow I made in my friend's memory, because of what he had done in June to save them from the vampire, we indeed came to a gentleman's agreement, the very thing you now suggest. I said that I would not hunt him down provided that he stayed away from Ruby and Mina. I have kept my word, he has not. Clearly, one of us has honored the gentleman's agreement, the other has proven himself to be a lair as well as a murder. I therefore think you are speaking to the wrong individual about this matter."

George smiled grimly. "Oh I am well aware of the lineage of Ruby. I do know her true heritage and more so, so does she. Ruby has told me those stories. Had Gonzales not arrived under duress, the entire AGELESS corporation would have been exterminated. He only came here to say goodbye and say he could not see Ruby again. I am speaking to the correct man. I don't give a rat's tail as to your supposed agreement. He is only staying away because of your threats. Period. You are the culpable and causal agent here.

And yes, you have served our country quite admirably in several conflicts. Perhaps, too many as your humanity seems to be in jeopardy. Andrew and you knew the risks of heading down to Texas. You chose to enter into an unlawful rebellion against a sovereign state. Those are the risks of war. If you kill Gonzales, who is to say some other Mexican hero won't come hunt you down. I had enough of that vigilante justice in Arizona. There is a limit to this, or should the Greeks attack the Ottomans because of Persian attacks at Thermopylae?"

George pauses, takes another drink. "Look, whether you agree with my reasoning or not, let me make this very personal for you. Utterly and implacably personal. Have you seen, have you been witnessed the trauma, the anguish, that your granddaughter has over this rift. She is totally devastated. Gonzales has said goodbye, he intends to keep to the agreement. But it is ruining your granddaughter's psyche. She is torn between a mentor she loves and is indebted to for saving her time and again. And a man who has been her grandfather, blood or no. She considers both of you family. This feud is causing her so much grief. She was sobbing in tears when Gonzales said goodbye. Look, in all honesty, I don't care who you carry a grudge for, who you kill, lawfully or not. But when those actions, or threat of actions affect Ruby, especially to such a degree, then it is my business and I will do whatever it takes to ensure her happiness. And this feud is most definitely affecting her happiness."

George pauses again. "Let me ask you this. Why do you feel the need to keep hunting this man, fifty years after the fact, and after the war is over?" As the waiter refills the drinks James nods and says, "George, whether you realize it or not, we are both making the same argument here. You are protecting your fiance, I am protecting my wife. Gonzales may have indeed shared this history with you and Ruby, but Mina remains unaware. I intend to keep it that way. Her loss of Andrew Dawson has caused her a half-century of pain, and this new knowledge would just reopen the wound. My wanting to keep him away from the women is to save Mina from further grief. The Gentleman's agreement that he and I came to indeed represented my putting aside the vendetta. However, I now fear that I cannot trust him to keep his side of the agreement, as he as blatantly violated it."

George says, "He came to say goodbye. Forever. And to Ruby only. I hardly see that as a egregious breech. So you want to put your wife ahead of your granddaughter? You can chose between family members, I don't understand that. Gonzales will allow Ruby to flourish in her chosen field. He has protected her, trained her. Perhaps he sees that as a a duty from his past, have you considered that?" James replies, "When he and I communicated by telegram in July he indicated that he was unaware of Ruby's relation to the man he killed until I informed him of it. If that is the truth, then his apprenticing her was not out of any sense of duty. Mr. Eastman, putting aside Ruby for the moment, how do I know that he will leave my Mina alone going forward? You say that he just came to say goodbye to Ruby, but he very much interacted with Mina as well."

George exclaims, "When has he ever pestered Mina? Seems like even before your agreement, he left her alone. He merely allowed you to codify his actions. But let me clarify. Gonzales keeps an eye on all his apprentices. He saw that Ruby was in danger, he came to Egypt to save her. He then, in disguise I might add, sought out Ruby to say good bye so as to adhere to the agreement as much as possible. So yes, he interacted with Mina. Perhaps he should have stuck to the letter of the letter of the agreement. Then Ruby and most likely Mina would both be dead. Does that seem a better outcome to you? To be a widower? To fulfill an outdated, antiquated feud, or some ad hoc agreement? You need to see the forest for the trees my friend. Do not become so mired in the past or in some convoluted sense of honor that you can't see what is right, what is needed, what is necessary today.For Mina and for Ruby. Do not let the past ruin your future James. I am only endeavoring not to let your past affect my future. You have no right to impose that on anyone"

James says, "It is hard not to be thinking of the past while we are sitting here. The last morning that I was here in Zakazik was in the 1820's, sitting at a restaurant on this very street having breakfast with Andrew Dawson. We were both impatiently waiting for our respective fiances, his was Wilamina, mine a delightful French woman named Honorine. It was after they eventually joined us that we toured Champollion's dig site in Bubastus." "And what happened to Honorie if I might ask?"

James replies, "Ah, my precious Honorine. After a close escape on one of our many adventures I forced her to give up this lifestyle. She did, but also gave up me as well. She married a man a wealthy man named Morel and had two daughters. After he died I would have gone back to her but was married myself at the time. A few years later she met the writer Jules Verne at her sisters wedding, they were married a year later. The man is a fraud, his supposed works of fiction began with him retelling stories that Honorine had told the children of our adventures together. His rather famous "Journey to the Center of the Earth" recounts when we joined my Grandmother Alsoomse to explore a deep volcano in Iceland, him changing her to Professor Lidenbrock, Honorine to the professor's son Alex, and me in the role of the Icelandic guide Bjelke.

He had been a prominent member of the Weekly Wizards group, but after his wife died he no longer had her for a source for stories, so began stealing the adventures of the other wizards. They expelled him from the group, where his son Michael then took his place. Michael is my own son's best friend, and was my inside source on the Wizard's membership list and activities. I hear that Verne is continuing his old tricks, having befriended a former crew member from that undersea ship you were on a few days back, and plans to publish a novel about Andre Nemo and his wonderful invention. My friend Maurice Beaujoulais is working behind the scenes to delay the publication, but it is only a matter of time before it eventually sees print. Letting Honorine go was the biggest mistake of my life. I loved her more than any of my first three wives. That is why I am walking this fine line in my fourth and hopefully final marriage, trying to simultaneously protect Mina while in no way limiting her participation on these adventures."

George remains silent and James concludes, "Okay George, how about this for a compromise. You speak to him and get assurances that he will leave me and Mina alone. What you and Ruby decide will be up to you, so long as we are not involved."

Neferka admits Ruby into her suite and dismisses her sister. "I hear that your Grandmother has returned," the Queen states." Ruby says, "Yes, she accompanied James back. I know you'll be meeting him soon, he wants to set up that business." Ruby walked around the woman's suite, looking at whatever is out. "How are you doing this afternoon, well almost evening I suppose? It must be difficult to be planning a wedding celebration and your families funeral at the time time."

She replies, "Barrister Sefu will make all of the funeral arrangements as well as my public ceremony of becoming Pharaoh. All I have to do is arrive and act appropriate for each occasion. And I have already had the discussion with Ahmed about his staying away from both. Even though it has been publicly stated that my father's assassin was an imposter, tensions are still high and some may have not heard that or may not believe it, so for his own safety he shouldn't be there." Ruby nodded. "I understand. Still, it will be hard to go through all that without him by your side."

Neferka tells Ruby "I have really enjoyed our time together. I would say that you are now like a sister to me, except that I like you far better. I wanted to see when we could schedule you and George to return to Egypt." Ruby grinned. "Oh! Much more pleasant discussion. We would love to come back, and soon. How soon would you like us?" Ruby hugged the young Queen. "You are like a sister to me also. I grew up without any siblings, so it feels nice. When we come back we could have lots of time to discuss all kinds of things and have all kinds of fun."

Neferka says, "Well, I was thinking maybe December or January, you're a little ways down on the rotation. After Sahab, myself and Ahmed, there's Meren and the four who accompanied her to Paris as well as my sisters and my closest advisers, although we could probably move some of them around depending upon Mr. Eastman's travel schedule." Ruby laughed, "What do you mean by rotation? I don't really understand all this royal stuff." Suddenly she perked up, "Oh! We could probably travel here on our honeymoon. We're going to be married soon, probably by January at the latest."

Neferka replies, "I mean the rotation of who wears the amulet! The one that we took from the French wizards. It needs to be worn for at least one full-week every year in order to extend its life doubling properties, and I'm clearly not going to allow it very far out of my sight. We need to decide what two-weeks each calendar year to schedule you and your intended for. Ruby's eyes nearly popped out of her head and she stutters, "Y-you would let us use it? I hadn't even considered that for a moment. I was only talking about coming to visit to see you!" She smiles, "Why of course. Don't be silly, I plan to keep this friendship going for a long time. And wouldn't we look odd together a half-century from now if I was still young a beautiful and you weren't?"

Ruby laughed, "I suppose you are right. I'd like to be young and beautiful forever!" The thought of the last person who offered her young and beautiful forever crossed her mind but she shook off that horrible image. "And it's not a bad thing to have a scheduled trip every year. I'll have to ask George when might be best in his schedule. He was so busy before all this, joining AGELESS I mean, and now he wants to open factories here too... I guess we'll be coming rather often. It's for the best, I have always wanted to travel my whole life."

Ruby paused for a long moment, still pacing around the room as she spoke. "It seems so strange to me, I started off this year homeless. Then I settled down in Promise City, in America's west, well, settled down for me anyway, and I was so happy there for a time. I thought I might actually be there for a long time, singing and dancing and owning my own place, my own saloon, and that I would never leave without... well, you know how those things go. And now all of a sudden that seems like such a small thing. The world seems bigger and brighter than ever before and I can't imagine going back there and being happy with those things."

Neferka says, "It isn't the place, it is the people. I could live the rest of my life never leaving this hotel suite provided that I was always surrounded by those who I love most. Of course, as Queen, I will have duties throughout Egypt, and I won't make the mistake my father did of leaving vast sections unvisited. The whole rebellion would not have happened if he had been active everywhere. I want all Egyptian's to be loyal to their Queen."

"Of course, you are right Your Majesty," Ruby grinned with a little bow, "It's definitely the people. I have friends from there that I miss but I have made so many more since leaving, and of course, finding my true love." She only paused a moment at that before continuing, "You will make a fabulous Queen. I don't know if I told you, the very first time I saw you you were saving a girl's life from a guard at the gates to the city. I saw that very same guard today, failing at his new job of being a porter at the train station. You did that on your own and that one little gesture shows me that you are kind and care for your people, all of them. I am certain your country will be loyal to you. And of course, it doesn't hurt that the goddess all told us so," she laughed.

Neferka laughs and says, "Ah, you saw that last week! And you say that vile man is now a train porter? Interesting, I had mentioned the incident at the gate to a Zakazik official shortly after my initial arrival here. It is good to see that official acted upon my comment, and at that time I was still in my Princess role, with no real authority other than the single task my father had delegated to me. I think I will have to add that individual to my growing list of advisers. I want to make as many personal appointments as I can before Barrister Sefu, arrives, as once he does he will take over all hiring."

Ruby furrowed her brows. "Why does the Barrister get to make all the decisions? Can't you make them if you want to?" The Queen replies, "Hiring staff is considered a lesser duty, not important enough for a Pharaoh to conern themselves with. But I want to make sure that I have a core group whose loyalty is to me." Ruby says, "But can't you just tell them you would like to appoint your own people? I would think being the Queen and Pharaoh you could do anything you want." Neferka replies, "Technically I could, but it would undermine their authority. I need the Barrister as a key member of my team of advisers, so do not want to alienate him. However, since he is not here yet I can make those decisions in his absence without him feeling slighted, since I clearly needed staff in the meanwhile."

Ruby sighed. "I suppose you don't want to start off on the wrong foot. You are very wise! I could never do your job, I am way too impatient," she laughed. "So, is there anything else you need of me now? I will speak to George and find a good time that we can reliably come back every year. Anything else? George wants to visit the Port and make sure things are smooth there. He's going to take me with him and we'll have a little alone time for a couple of days before returning for your big ball." She replies, "Just exercise caution when travelling about, tensions are still quite high and no doubt, many will not be pleased with the unanticipated rapid pace of the peace, or may be seeking revenge against all foreigners for the death of my father, as word has now spread that the French were responsible. It certainly wouldn't do for you to be killed by people mistaking your for your enemies."

Ruby chuckled. "After all we've been through, that would certainly be the least desirable way to get to the next world. We'll be careful, I promise." She hugged the Queen tightly. "Take care. I hope you get to see Ahmed soon." She gave her friend a squeeze then released her. "Your advisors know how to get us if you need us for anything, we are leaving in the morning. But we will absolutely be back for your celebration ball. And then I will give you an answer to your question." She kissed her friend on the cheek then left her suite.

Ruby went wandering the hotel looking for her grandmother. She found her in her old room. "Hi Nana!" she said brightly. "So, how was your time with James?" "Wonderful," Mina says, and gets lost into a long conversation with her granddaughter.

Silver Moon

Chapter 141, "Abby's Journal", September 14, 1882

Summer 1882

Flying somewhere over Europe

That sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Flying over Europe. And yet I’ve seen so much over the last few weeks that flying over Europe is the least of it. Curious how we can become accustomed to the extraordinary so quickly.

We rousted ourselves around the ungodly hour of about 11:00 AM to breakfast with Monsieur Boujoulais who was a gracious host despite have just returned home, having almost no staff there, and having a generous portion of the house brunt to a crisp. While I certainly understand the need Meren’s group had to keep the other guards from disturbing their work, amongst several with their level of power I can’t imagine they couldn’t find an alternative to fire. It has a mind of its own and will spread if not watched. They couldn’t have had any idea that the house would end up in the former owner’s hands, so perhaps they just didn’t consider damaging the building as hurting anyone but the weekly wizards.

But fire is still fire. It’s dangerous and gets out of control faster than anyone ever imagines. Well, I wasn’t there so I suppose I have no business judging, have I?

In any case, after breakfast Cal called the carriage and the creepy clockwork driver and we left Paris quietly enough. I have to wonder what the Empress is up to this morning. I shall not back down on my dislike of Monsieur Duruy. I can certainly understand his feelings considering what has just happened, and even his personal rudeness doesn’t bother me in particular. What does bother me is the feeling that he is ambitious for a return of the power of the Weekly Wizards.

I am digressing today, aren’t I? I think Cal and I were both still rather fatigued, of mind if not body and the ride was quiet. I watched the City of Lights pass by, and then enjoyed the countryside as we rode though, although with the speed of the carriage it’s a lot like taking a train, with no time to truly settle one’s eyes on anything and get a good look.

I have spent a great deal of time out of America, and I still find it slightly startling when I see blatant use of Arcane magics. What screaming there would be if anyone saw a carriage going that fast back home. Well, perhaps not in New Orleans.

So we returned to the estate in good time, and Charles was as delightful as I’d found him before, and comfortable in his farmer’s clothes again. Perhaps I’ll throw Cal over for him. Cal is occasionally frighteningly lacking in sense of humor. I’m quite certain that the problem is not that my teasing is too subtle.

If you ever get your hands on this somehow, dear, life is not THAT serious, I promise! Or at the very least I’m not. And I don’t really plan to throw you over for Charles.

Not very seriously, anyway.

Meaghan was strutting around the place looking quite smug and pleased with herself. It’s possible I’m being unfair and seeing what I expect to, but so what? A time may come when I need to get along with her, but that day has not come yet and I can be as unfair as I like. Pepe was still interested in coming with us back to Egypt in hopes of seeing his relation, so we have company on our long ride over the continent.

After so much happened last night, I was glad to get some time to wander outdoors alone while Cal made whatever landowner arrangements he had to make. If he really intends to ask Mrs. Parker to allow him to become part of the AGELESS group, he’ll be living in Florida for a while, so I suppose there are arrangements to be made. I’m sure Charles can handle things, even with Meaghan feeling full of a new sense of authority.

We waited until full dark to bring the dirigible back out and return it to its full size. We’ve been in France for a few days now. I’m sure Cal’s people got good notes about it. I wonder how long it might take them to replicate it? I’m all for taking on a project for the challenge, but what ARE they going to do with a Dirigible once they create it?

Anyway, Charles gave us a lovely goodbye and Meaghan an awkward but sincere one and we were off. I’ve had a nice chat with Pepe and now he’s dozing while Cal steers this great behemoth back to Egypt.

It’s my hope we’ll be headed back to Florida shortly after we get back. It’s been an exciting time in Egypt, but I’m ready for a bit of home and comfort and quiet before heading out again on whatever mission the AGELESS group may take on next. Of course there’ll be a trip to England soon, so I may not get as much rest as I’d like.

I’ll have to talk to my dressmaker sooner rather than later. Call me petty (and you’d probably be right) but if I have to meet Cal’s parents I want to absolutely knock them over. I can play the cultured lady with the best of them, filthy colonist or not. Although I have to admit as poorly as I think of these people now, I’ll think even worse of them if I’m suddenly acceptable because the Queen of England took two seconds out of her day to notice me.

I have studied a great deal of history. I know how nobility thinks, and the more minor the more they cling to whatever nobility they have. Intellectually, I understand the behavior perfectly. That said, I’m an American, and my studies have only enforced my belief that nobles are nothing special. Wealth and education will elevate anyone, titled or not.

Cal tells me we will be landing shortly, and so for today, this must be the end.

When they reach Zakazik, the dirigible is tethered to the rooftop. Abby soon discovers that in her absence George Eastman has successfully negotiated a peace settlement. Most of her party have settled into rooms in the Grand Hotel and rooms are quickly secured for both Abigail and Callum. The Mexican elf Pepe says goodbye and heads off to locate Manual Gonzales if he is still in the city. She sleeps well into the next morning.

Abigail enters the main dining room for brunch to see an interesting trio together at a table, coprised of the centaur druid Cetan and gunslinger turned lawyer John Wesley Hardin seated with her recent travelling companion, the elf named Pepe. Several full if late nights of sleep had finally overcome the total exhaustion of their time in Egypt, and Abby appeared fresh and bright in a pale green gown and a book in her hands. There was no need to hide her accent here, so it was front and center as she said, "Good morning, gentlemen. I hope you don't mind if I sit down."

Hardin immediately stands and holds a chair for her stating "Please do." Pepe smiles and says, "My friend had already left Zakazik, but is still in Egypt. I'll be taking a train in two hours to meet up with him. In the meanwhile, I was telling this duo about the status of the mansion in Paris that they helped liberate. But my news is second-hand, you can better fill them in since you were just there."

"Thank you, Mr. Hardin," she said, giving him a dazzling smile and taking the seat. "The Weekly Wizards have been disbanded, and the house returned to its rightful owner, the son of the family the Weekly Wizards took the house from many years ago. He's brought the butler back, and the butler is not pleased with the damage done. I dare say the owner isn't either, but he realizes how lucky he is to have the place back at all. The French authorities seemed to have ransacked it quite thoroughly before returning it, however, although they did not get into the treasure room that you sealed."

Hardin says, "Well, I suppose that should not come as a surprise. I always said that aristocrats are nothing more than thieves in fancy clothing." Cetan says, "Abigail, the most amazing thing. Queen Neferka says that the five of us who captured and gave the amulet to her will be allowed to use it, to extend our lifetimes." Abby lifted her eyebrows in surprise. "That is quite generous. And shrewd, I must say. After all, I'm sure the Queen intends to extend her own life with the artifact. Sharing it with those who have helped her means she'll have trusted friends during that long life while rewarding people who deserve it." 'And be in control on their lifespan,' she thought, but kept that one to herself.

Pepe says, "I will let my Great-Uncle know of that as well. He may, or may not, choose to utilize it, he is already over 800 years old." Abby replies, "He'd have to consider if he wants to return to Egypt every year for the rest of his life, and continue to be so closely related to her Majesty. Of course, it's possible he already knows a way to extend his life. And from what I understand, once you begin using one method, you can't switch to another."

Pepe says, "Generally that is true, prolonged aging is not something that can be combined without potentially fatal consequences. I would guess that he would not be willing to commit to the annual visit, but since he knows the Transportation spell that would be less of a problem for him than others." Hardin says, "Not a problem for me, I find that I rather like this place, far fewer people around here that hold a grudge against me." Pepe laughs and says, "Yes, but on that score I would suggest that you and Cetan both avoid Paris."

Abby laughed but nodded. "There are plenty of very angry members of the Weekly Wizards left there. I had a few unpleasant encounters myself. There's desperation among some, others are already looking for new paths to power. You made some enemies gentlemen, and they may be all the more dangerous for being unrestrained by other members of the group. But they are not here," she finished. "It would be nice to know that Transportation spell. I see a lot of travel in my future. I'm expected in England next month."

Cetan states, "My understanding is that you have to be a very powerful wizard to master that spell." Abby says, "Yes, and I am far from it. And I don't see myself every becoming that powerful. As a human I'd have to dedicate myself almost exclusively to arcane magic to achieve that kind of mastery in my lifetime, and I have too many other interests to do that." Cetan says, "Well, like Mr. Hardin, I see no reason to leave this fine country. Never have I been in a place where the leader considers me a friend." Hardin says, "Yeah, we're both staying. Although I have heard a rumor that Eastman wants to set up an AGELESS branch somewhere around here, so I may stay with the outfit if that is true."

"That doesn't surprise me," Abby said, shoving down her discomfort with the topic of Mr. Eastman. She understood that the fact that he had been cool and decisive while here in Egypt and she had been thrown off-stride was not his fault, but she still had not liked being ordered about by the man. Her own shortcomings were amplified in her mind by that. But she would get over it. "Gentlemen, if you feel Egypt will treat you well, I wish you good fortune in your choice. I can certainly understand it. I'll be just as glad to leave. I can't say I'd turn down more time in Europe, though. My own skills aren't welcome at home, either."

"So stay," Hardin comments. She shook her head. "Not yet. I have an opportunity with AGELESS that I won't get anywhere else. But when it's time to settle down, finally," she grinned, "Europe will probably be where I stay. Of course, who knows what the future will be like? Twenty years from now who knows which countries will be friendly to arcanists?"

Abby stayed and chatted for a while longer and after a breakfast heavy on dates and honey finally said, "Pepe, I hope you enjoy your time with Senior Gonzales. Gentlemen, I'll make sure to say good-bye before we head back to Florida. Or before I head back to England. I'd like to get my unsettled plans settled." She spent some time wandering around the hotel, not in any particular hurry to get to anything. She knew she ought to go speak to Mrs. Parker, but that would happen soon enough. For now it was nice to let her mind wander.
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Silver Moon

Chapters 142, September 14, 1882, "Egyptian Vacation" Part 1: "With you the adventure never ends"

Standing outside their hotel, George was enjoying the beautiful weather, taking in the beauty of this Egyptian city while looking around for any potential complications. Things were humming along in the streets. People seemed happy that the Queen was on the throne, the rebels were disbanding and peace was returning. George strolled up the street a bit. He stopped at a local vendor and bought some lamb shawarma then ate it as he strolled back down to the hotel. Ruby still wasn't out yet so he went the other direction, pulling out a cigar and enjoying the odor.

George passed by a small shrine to the gods of the land. He stopped and stared at the small stone statue of Bast as he smoked his cigar. He smiled as he recalled all the events that had happened since they had come to Egypt. George nods his head, still smiling as he turns away. He doesn't take but three steps before he pulls up short again. A small store was selling food and offerings for the gods. George bought a red bead necklace, and a small piece of baklava. He returned to the shrine and draped the necklace around Bast's neck. He placed the honey pastry in her open hand. George stepped back admiring the offerings as he pulled on the cigar again. He took it out of his mouth and considered it. Taking one last drag he placed the still smoking cigar at Bast's feet. George gave a little tip of his hat to Bast before he turned away. He strolled back up the street, hands in his pockets, whistling a tune he couldn't quite identify, but somehow he knew it.

Suddenly he laughed. He could hear Ruby’s singular voice wafting out of the hotel. She was bubbly and happy, directing the valets what to do with all her bags and leaving directions for her family and friends in case they needed to contact them. Her face lit up when seeing George and she bounced over to him. She took his arm and smiled up at him. “Hello darling, are you ready for our next adventure?” George laughed himself now. He was in quite a good mood. "My love, with you the adventure never ends," says George as he bends to kiss her. "But yes, I am ready to leave; I don't even mind the work I need to do so long as I am with you."

Ruby beamed up at George. "Yes, quite true. I believe from the very beginning you've said our life would be an adventure together and so far you have certainly been right. I imagine someday we'll be old on a grand porch somewhere in rocking chairs just being quiet and still, enjoying our last days together." Ruby chuckled. "Okay maybe not quiet or still. I don't think that's in our cards." She squeezed his hand then started pulling him. "Let's go."

She dragged George over to the large opulent carriage that the Queen had loaned them from her own fleet. There was a flurry of activity as it was being loaded with their bags and prepped to go. George had some words with the driver while a footman opened the door for Ruby and helped her inside.
Inside was the most extravagant carriage Ruby had ever been in, even more so than Emery Shaw’s back in Promise City or her parent’s back in New York City. The seats were covered in thick red velvet and there was a small, lit crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The far side contained a counter with a fruit and cheese platter, a small bar with many bottles, cut crystal glasses and an ice bucket filled with ice. Ruby ran her hand over the plush seat as she sat down and smiled. As George entered she commented, "We're going to have to get one of these darling!"

George raises an eyebrow. "Of course my love. This wouldn't stand out in Promise City at all. I am not even sure it would fit in in Manhattan. Of course I hear August Otto has some new horseless carriage in the works. But first my greedy little girl, let us simply enjoy this carriage, this trip. Live in this moment. Yes?" says George closing the door behind them and signaling the driver to begin. The coach lurches toward as they begin their journey. Ruby laughed heartily. "Yes, yes, your greedy little girl. I get to be greedy and you get to fulfill my every whim and desire. I think it works out for both of us." More giggles. She continued to grin as she mindlessly rubbed the velvet bench when the coach lurched forward, beginning its journey. "But what is this about a horseless carriage? What is the world coming to??"

She sighed as she looked out the window, drifting into her own thoughts. "We should enjoy every moment, you are right. You never know when things will suddenly and drastically change on you, rearranging your whole world." “You mean like landing in a revolution and having to play kingmaker?” asks George with a grin. “Indeed, though, in this line of work, AGELESS that is, things can go south quickly. But we do enjoy the time we have at least. It is important to not simply be hedonistic, but to work to leave a better world for the next generation. Perhaps even our children,” says George looking at Ruby with questioning eyes.

Ruby gulped. “Children? Babies? Are you on about that again? I thought we already discussed that back in Florida. Even though that seems like years ago at this point.” She shuddered and looked out the window of the carriage, lost in her own thoughts for long moments. George did not press her but he did notice a peculiar look come across her face before she inhaled and started speaking again. “I have this image, in my mind. I’m stuck in this small dark room with a screaming baby. My head feels like it will explode from the racket and worse than that, I have no idea how to make the screaming stop. I just look down at it and feel so helpless, this little… creature… looking up, wiggling and crying at me. Crying at ME! I don’t like that helpless feeling. I’ve told you how I felt growing up, why would I want another innocent baby to ever feel that way? And what would I ever even know about being a mother anyway? I can barely take care of myself.”

George calmly smiled at Ruby and noted she didn’t notice her hand was resting on her belly. He moved closer to her on the plush bench and put his arm around her reassuringly. “I have an image too, Ruby my love. It’s a large, beautiful bright room decorated in soft pastels with floor to ceiling windows that lets the brilliant light stream in. There is a large fireplace and a crackling fire is going, adding its soft, warm light to the room. You are sitting near the fire in a white rocking chair, a long red braid hanging over your shoulder while you are gently holding our newborn son in your arms. He is suckling at your breast while you look down at him with love. At your feet are two sweet young girls, maybe 5 and 2 years of age, both with long, deep red, wild flowing hair like their mother.” George gently reached out and caressed the end of Ruby’s hair between two fingers while talking. “They are building castles at your feet with blocks and using their dolls to fight off dragons and keep you and their new brother safe.” He paused to let it all set in.

“It is much different from your vision, do you know why?” Ruby just looked at George with wide green eyes and shook her head no. George smiled wider. “The difference my love is that I am there with you too. There are no crying babies and there are no situations we can’t figure out together. In that room sits my heart and I will cherish that more than anything in this world or any other world we may not know about yet. We can build that nursery in our new home, and there you will be safe and never be alone or feel unloved again. I will protect you, and them, with all of my being. I will love you more than anyone has ever loved anyone before. My love will be greater than the depths of the ocean or than the mountains are high.” He grasped her hand in his, “More than all the stars in all the skies of our universe.”

Ruby is about to speak but George puts a finger on her lips. “Okay, there might eventually be a crying baby but we’ll figure it out together. You and I can handle anything.” He chuckled, “Plus we will have a nannie or two to help. And while most women learn how to mother from their own mothers and upbringing, you can make your own choices. And……. I don’t know, somehow when women become mothers there is some, some instinct that kicks in. I know you don’t feel confident now, but when, and if, I suppose, that motherhood comes to you, I have every confidence that you will be a loving, nurturing mother. And I also know you would shoot any boy who dared break your little girl’s heart,” says George with a grin. Even though she was nervous, a small laugh escapes Ruby’s lips. “I thought that was a father’s job.”

She is quiet then again for another long moment. She reached forward and poured herself a double bourbon. She only sipped at it while considering what to say next. George sensed that there was something Ruby wanted to say to him but was wrestling demons about whether or not she should. “Oh, father’s threaten, mother’s shoot, and you are a damn good shot my love.”

George reaches over and takes the glass out of Ruby’s hand and sets it back on the bar. He pulls her down so her head is in his lap and gently starts to stroke her hair “Listen, I did not intentionally bring this up, it just sort of sprang up from your comment. We did agree to have a child in the future before all this craziness started. However this is nothing that needs to be decided today. Today is for rest, and enjoyment and life. Other decisions can wait until after this weekend, or forever if need be. So don’t dwell too much on this my dear. I do want you to see my vision, so at least you don’t fear something for the wrong reason. In many ways a child is the ultimate expression of love between two people. But for now, for today, for this moment: let it ease from your mind, relax, and feel the breeze in your hair, the warm sun on your cheek, and my soft words in your ear,” says George quietly, continuing to stroke her hair.

Ruby breathed deeply, in and out, letting her cares disappear for the moment. She closed her eyes expecting darkness. Instead she saw George’s vision in her mind and she didn’t immediately recoil from it. “You’ll make a wonderful father one day darling.” "Only if you are the mother Ruby. For children should grow where there is love, and I can only love you, so any of my children must be by you. But come now is not the time for this talk; I did not mean to introduce so heavy a topic. Lay it aside, save it for another day. Today, this day is for relaxation, celebration. So, sit up my love and enjoy your drink, or lay here and rest in my lap, but take the weight from your brow."

Ruby lay quietly on George’s lap for some time, pondering his words, taking them seriously rather than her usual complete rejection of the subject. Finally she sits up, resting on her hands, leaning towards George with a crooked grin on her face. “You know the best part about babies?” She gave him her dazzling smile, “Making them. Practice makes perfect, right?” "Indeed." replies George with his own grin. He reaches over to the sides and pulls the curtains on the windows. He pulls Ruby close to him in a shadowy carriage. Their lips meet in a slow sensual kiss. "Well then we had better get practicing right?" asks George. Ruby giggles in reply "My thought exactly," she whispered huskily. Soft, wet kisses lead to roaming hands. Clothing comes off in a slow steady stream as they enjoy each other’s bodies without haste or hurry.

At some point, time had lost meaning, as it often did when George and Ruby were together, they lay they, hot, sweaty, breathing hard, but satiated and satisfied, entwined in each other’s arms. George reaches up and gets a drink for himself and Ruby. Whiskey wet lips kiss Ruby again before George lays back down next to Ruby, her head on his shoulder. Ruby purred, "Well, that was certainly a pleasurable way to start our trip darling. I just might get used to baby talk." She snuggled closer into a George, lazily running a finger over his firm, sweaty chest. "I am so happy you had time to get away. We have much to talk about and... Not talk about," she laughed with a crooked smile.

George stretches as best he can on their improvised bed, the floor covered in blankets. He smiles back, "Indeed we do, baby talk, wedding talk, honeymoon talk. Hell just talk of when we finally get out of here, not that I dislike Egypt, but when we went through that portal, I thought it was for a little jaunt. So yes, lots to talk about, lots to be silent about, lots to speak with our bodies, and lots to just stare into each other's eyes," says George holding Ruby, and gently dragging his fingertips over her body. “Most importantly, we will have time to do these things over these days, a well-earned respite. A chance to relax, I want to go in the sea, and feel the waters of the Mediterranean on me. To sit in the sun and read, or not. To drink whenever and however I want. To see the sights. Speaking of sights...”

George throws back the sheet that had been covering Ruby. His eyes travel down the luscious curves of her body before returning to her enchanting green eyes. "There are sights I shall never tire of, and fortunately for me they are traveling with me," says George grinning as he leans in and kisses Ruby softly. "Perhaps even my scarlet seductress will honor me with a song or dance? For my personal viewing of course," he adds before leaning back in and kissing Ruby's rose-red lips once again, though this time for longer, deeply kissing her. George breaks the kiss after some time and strokes Ruby's hair. "Whatever shall I do my dear?" Ruby's smile drops and she seems puzzled. "Do? Do about what?" "About the fact that my auburn thief has stolen my heart and soul," grins George. "And she won't give them back, not that I want them now, they are far more precious in her hands." Ruby blushes and gives a little shy smile as she looks down. Only George knew how to embarrass her like this, though she loved it.

As she looked down in contemplation George's eyes traveled down her flawless body. He watches as her body's curves and swells jiggle and move in rhythm with the carriage. As Ruby looks up at George since he stopped talking she says, "What is wrong my darling?" George, not without some effort, wrenches his eyes back up to meet Ruby's. "Wrong? Nothing is wrong. Well other than the fact that you tempt men with your voice as a siren, and with your looks as Aphrodite herself. How any man can say no to you is beyond me," says George as he leans in for a hard, passionate kiss, a kiss full desire and longing.
As Ruby pulls away from George she laughs, "Well I do like that you know. But don't worry my love; I would never abuse that power I have over you. Now about that new ring I wanted…" she laughs. George laughs as well. Though the laugh turns to an embrace which leads to more kissing. The tantalizing movement of Ruby's body is an undeniable lure and soon enough Ruby and George are entwined with each other again.

This time though, George slows Ruby down with some erotic techniques from the Perfumed Garden and the Kama Sutra. This time their lovemaking is a long, slow, excruciatingly intimate experience. When they finished they fell back in each other's arms, panting, sweating, spent. The coach was warm from the day and their efforts, soft light filtered in through the curtains. They both drowsed, entering that twilight sleep granted by Eros to the most passionate of lovers. Some unknown amount of time goes by with the lovers sleeping curled up together, Ruby sleeping with her head on George's arm. The carriage hit a bump as it seemed to slow down, causing Ruby to crack open her eyes and slowly remember where they are. She pulled herself out of her lover’s tight embrace and peeked out the window.

What she saw gave her a little jolt; the carriage was pulling to a stop, they were seemingly at their destination or at least close to it. With a light laugh she poked at George, "Time to get up sleepyhead, I think we are here and it won't due to be naked when they open the door!" She started looking around the dark carriage trying to piece together her clothes so she could dress. George stretches, peeks out the window for a moment, "Just entering the city limits, I would say we still have 30 minutes or so, but, yes Miss West, let us get you looking presentable." says George getting Ruby's clothes in order to make it easier for her to get dressed.

As Ruby pulled on her underskirt and chemise she looked sideways at George. "So, ah, that was pretty fantastic my love. I mean, amazing. Aside from the fact that you teased me terribly, which is just wicked of you, there were, uh... things that even I don't know about. Have never seen. Or done. I’m supposed to be the Follower of Aphrodite," She laughed. She started on wiggling into her corset. "What is that all about?" "Well when you sleep your way around the world, you learn a thing or two," grins George who starts laughs as a pouty Ruby starts hitting him. "Ok, ok, he says trying to control the laughter. Really it comes from several books. There was a large movement in England especially against the restrictive morals of Victorian England. Many scholars and free thinkers turned to erotic literature as a counter cultural movement. Much of that came from the Kama Sutra. So yes I have read many of the ancient manuals on making love, including the Perfumed Garden. And well, applied some of them. Especially as I have the most inspiring lover in all the world," says George smiling.

“All the world, huh?” She started getting lost in her thoughts but dragged herself out of that train of thought, deciding not to linger on that thought too long. Then Ruby suddenly blushed again. “Really, from a book? Perhaps you can show me these books of yours and help me read them.” George tried not to laugh at that, “Ruby, I will help you read them and, ahem, research and practice every single page if you’d like and for as long as you’d like.” George bursts out in laughter. Ruby slaps him playfully but laughs with him. “That’s a learning I can get behind, darling.”

They finish dressing and tidying up the carriage and soon enough the carriage is at their seaside resort. They are greeted by an enthusiastic staff, who quickly go about unloading the coach. It’s obvious they have been informed that their new guests are friends of the Queen and are treated with the utmost respect and courtesy. The concierge greets them with a friendly smile. “Hello, hello my new friends. We are so pleased you have chosen to visit us here at the Savoy. My name is Ammon and I will be here to make your desires come true. Anything you need you ask me for.” George responds, holding some money out in his hand, “Thank you my good man. Mostly what we will be needing is some privacy.” “Oh yes, yes, I understand. You will have a suite on the top floor and no one is near you.” The man waved the money away, “No, no you have been taken care of. Please, no.”

Ruby excused herself and walked over to the water while George continued to chat with the man and their things were flying off the coach and into the hotel. There was a lot of activity in the water, a lot of boats coming and going, and a lot of people walking around in the small port city. At Port Said, Ruby She gazed off into the distance, out over the water, again lost in her thoughts. Before long George came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her and kissed her neck. “It’s very pretty here,” Ruby commented. “Yes, though not as pretty as you,” replied George sincerely. Ruby smiled at George’s comment then asked, “Everything taken care of?” “Yes my dear, it is. We can do whatever you’d like now.”

Ruby turned to face George, staying inside his arms, wrapping her own arms around his neck. “Well, I’d like to do some shopping. I definitely want to get some things for Ben, maybe my mother, and definitely for Katherine and Liam, even though he is not born yet who knows when one of us will get back to Egypt! And perhaps also Nanuet and maybe the Figures Family and possibly even send something back for the Lady. Though I am not sure what any of them would want or need.” She shrugged, “I’m willing to look. I also want to have a yummy dinner tonight and maybe tomorrow we can go to the beach. Or see whatever other sights are around.” She paused, scrunching her nose as her thoughts caught up. “Of course, in the end as long as we are together I don’t care what we do.”

George just shook his head and laughed. “It’s a good thing the ship is here or we’d be spending thousands of dollars on shipping fees.” He kissed her before she could protest. “Not to worry darling, anything you want you will have. For you or for your friends.” She had started to pout before he kissed her but he had stopped her lips from protesting. “Alright, we won’t spend our entire time here shopping,” she laughed in return. She plopped herself down on the ground to get comfortable. “Just a good portion of it.” She looked up at George’s face as he stood over her. “OKAY, just a small portion of it,” she laughed again. She looked out into the harbor. “It is quite beautiful here. Busy but beautiful.” She gazed out over the water for some time before speaking again. “Actually, let’s go in and see the room now. And then we need to get a snack. I am STARVING!”

George eyed Ruby suspiciously, “Didn’t you just have a snack in the carriage? You’ll ruin your dinner.” Ruby laughed. “As if I could ruin my dinner. Have you ever known me to ruin my dinner George? I can almost always eat! You know that.” She poked him in the belly. “Perhaps I just loovveee Egyptian food. Of course, you’d better hope that isn’t so true that you have to fly in an Egyptian Chef for me.” She burst out laughing again. “I do especially love Dorita’s muffins, oh I miss them so much! All her cooking is just so good. Just talking about it is making me MORE hungry.”

“Heaven forbid you learn how to make shwarma,” said George rolling his eyes. That quickly turned in to laughter as Ruby again poked him in the belly with a finger while pretending to be angry. “OK, ok. Let us go and eat,” he says extending his hand to help her up. She gave an odd “ooff” as she got up. George again gave her a hard look but chalked it up to sitting at an odd angle on the ground. Together they walked down the main road in town, stopping at the local eateries with George asking the questions about the food. Finally he was satisfied and they entered to eat. George looked over the menu and spoke to the waiter for a bit as poor Ruby sat there eyeing everyone else’s food hungrily. But food quickly came out. George smiled, “This is a pretty nice find, they have some excellent dishes I think you will enjoy.”

Out first was a small plate with small brown squares with nuts in them. “Halawa,” explained George as Ruby tried it and her face lit up. “Sesame paste with pistachios,” continued George. “We have got to bring some of these home!” said Ruby shoving a second one in her mouth. Next out the waiter brought some hot, fresh naan and an herby dip called dukkah as George explained. George then asked for a bottle of wine to accompany their dinner. “This is amazing,” says Ruby as she tried the dukkah. Then the main dishes came out, shrimp mulukhiya and a pleasantly spicy kushari. George ate and drank with a smile as he watched Ruby try all these new and exotic foods with glee. She of course loved them all and ate some, or a lot, of everything. As they were ending the meal George excused himself and went into the kitchen.

He returned a short while later with a big grin. “What canary did you eat mister cat?” asked Ruby playfully noting George’s smug grin. George helped Ruby up and as they left George answered. “Well since you liked the halawa so much I ordered some for you. There will be two pounds back in the hotel room tonight, and I arranged to have a large batch sent back to Cairo for you.” Ruby squeed and squeezed George’s hand and laid her head on his shoulder as they walked. “You think of everything George,” she said. “Thank you.” “You are of course welcome my dear. And you can bring your halawa out to the beach tomorrow. It doesn’t go bad in the sun. Gets a little soft, but it will be fine.” Ruby added, ”How did you get so smart George?” George took it rhetorically and did not answer as they walked along.

Ruby was off in her own thoughts as she walked and let George lead the way. So when her foot made a hollow “thunk” instead of a firm crunch on dirt, she looked around. They were standing on wood, a pier to be exact. One that extended out in the blue Mediterranean. “I though a nice sail in the Mediterranean during sunset would be a nice way to top off that meal Miss West. Care to?” Ruby squeezed George’s hand again. “Of course I would Mr. Eastman. Nothing sounds more perfect than a sunset sail with you right now.” They walked far out onto the pier over the crystal blue water. Ruby watched as George arranged the trip and she waited to board the boat until instructed. They took seats up front, where the warm air caressed them as the boat sailed gently into the sea. George and Ruby complete their cruise as the stars came out over the Mediterranean. They returned to port and strolled hand in hand back to the hotel.

Silver Moon

Chapters 143, September 15, 1882, "Egyptian Vacation" Part 2: It all seems like a dream. I hope I never wake up."

When Ruby awoke the next morning, the sun was already high in the sky. George was gone, but Ruby wasn't too concerned and indeed he returned as she was finishing up her morning routine. He came up behind her and kissed her neck. "Ok, it is all arranged. Dress for a seaside picnic. We are taking a camel tour down to the eastern beaches and have a picnic there." says George smiling at her in her vanity mirror.

"Excellent darling! I am going to wear one of my new Egyptian robes. I think there is a saying... When in Egypt... Right?" She laughs lightly. "I mean, what does one wear to the beach, to picnic AND to camel ride? I've noticed a lot of tourists here and they seem to be wearing the same ol boring skirts and shirts they wear back home. So I am going to act like a native! Of course, this, " she pulls on her hair while spinning around to face George, "Will most certainly give me away." She drops her robe to the floor and begins trying to wrap the brightly colored dress around herself. "Besides, I'm tired of wearing corsets, they have been so uncomfortable lately. I mean, really, who goes tomb raiding, traipsing through the desert, escaping palaces and stopping wars in corsets? It's just not right."

She tries multiple times to get the wrap right on the dress. Finally she gives up in frustration with a loud "Ugh!" as she throws it back on the bed. "I think I'll try a different dress," she says to herself, rifling through her clothes, as she calms herself down. She finally settles on a black dress, which would be quite daring back home but seemed to be in place here. It came with beautiful matching gold jeweled accessories, for her wrists and her hair. Finally satisfied she turns to George. "Ready when you are!

George had been smiling as he watched ruby try on clothes, both to watch Ruby's attempt to wear a dress she loved the look of but had never seen actually worn, as well to to admire the inadvertent, yet compelling burlesque-like show that Ruby puts on merely by her native beauty and sensuality. "Radiant as always my dear." said George taking her by the hand and stepping back to admire her. " You had best be careful my love, Aphrodite herself will become jealous. Well, more jealous." says George with a grin, leaning in for a kiss.

George and Ruby head down stairs and take a carriage out to the edge of town, there they dismounted outside a stable. A familiar man was waiting for them. he came up to George with a big grin "Ah sahib" he says bowing as George shook his hand. They had a quick conversation in Egyptian. Then Ruby recognized him, he was the owner of the restaurant they had visited the other day, George had obviously arranged to have their meal catered by the same place. After the brief conversation the man waves at Ruby as he walks away. The package that the man had brought was taken by some other men inside the stables.

In a moment three camels were brought out, fully decked in traditional saddles and tack. Tassels, bells and all. Ruby squealed with delight as they knelt and George helped Ruby up onto her mount. As she did she turned "Darling, why three camels?" Ruby asked. "Well, camels can be a bit temperamental, so a handler along is a good idea in case they balk, and this way we have someone to watch them as we picnic." replies George as he too swings into his saddle.

Ruby grabbed the seat tight and squealed again as the camel rose to it's full height. As they rode slowly out to the beach she couldn't get the huge toothy grin off her face. She yelled over to George, "I can't believe we're doing this!!" "Why is that darling?" George answered, his own smile growing. "I don't know, I guess I always dreamed of doing this my whole life and now I am actually doing it. The whole coming to Egypt thing, being with my grandmother, searching through pyramids in exotic lands... All of it." She looked out over the trail for a moment then back to George. "Being with you. Being here with you. It all seems like a dream. I hope I never wake up."

"Well, what use is living if not living life as an adventure? And while hiding out in Promise City served it's purpose for you, there is a whole wide world out there to explore. I am just grateful that I have found someone to share these adventures with," says George smiling back at Ruby."Yes it is definitely better sharing this with you my love." Ruby was quiet for long moments as the camels walked on as she pondered what George said.

Finally, "I do really miss Promise City and my saloon and the friends I made there. I feel like I have left a big part of me there. And yet as I said to the Queen yesterday, now that we've done this," she waved an arm wide gesturing to the land, "I don't think I can ever go back to living there. I guess I have been fooling myself that I would. I mean, when I left I thought I was going back, I intended on returning back to my home and..." Her voice trailed off and she sighed. "Back to the things I loved and worked so hard to get. I was so very happy there, for a time. I had been so unhappy before that, wandering from place to place. Then finally I had a home of my own, my saloon was home and I had such good friends...Not that I don't love being with you, I do, I just, I just thought I was going back and now I am finally realizing that I never AM going back. I mean, I am never going to live there and work there again, not like I had been. And while your house in Rochester is nice, well, it's yours. So I feel like I don't have a home again."

She was quiet again for a long while before speaking again. "But having adventures with you is amazing and one day I'll make a new home, with you. Someplace we both love. Together, right?" She looked at him nervously with the question in her eyes. George smiled back "Of course Miss West. But remember that while you may have left some part of you in promise City, no part of you gets used up. No matter how much you leave behind, you have you entire person with you always. You took many memories away from there. And yes you left parts of you. But it is kind of like footprints. You always leave them wherever you go. And yes, you do leave many more in places you stay for a long time. But no matter where you are you will always leave more foot prints. And so my love worry less about where your footprints have been than where they are." says George as he rides closer and leans over to kiss Ruby.

"Of course, right now we are only leaving camel prints" he laughs. "You are right darling, I should not only not worry about the past I shouldn't worry about anything at all," she laughed. "That was one of my better traits before I started growing up." She laughed even heartier at that, and kept laughing for long moments. "This is way too much fun to miss any of it. Though I could probably do with less bouncing," she giggled while glancing down at her chest. "Oh I don't mind the bouncing" says George with a wink."But you experienced the Wild West. Now you have camels and pyramids. Who knows what wonders await you next year"

"George, you are such a scoundrel underneath it all, aren't you? But in the absolute best way!" she grinned. "The bouncing is also not doing good things to my belly but that is probably because I ate so much at breakfast," she laughed. "As to your other question..." she tapped her lips, "I am not sure. There are still SO many things I want to see. There are so many things I don't even yet KNOW I want to see... I wonder what it will be... our next adventure... I wonder..." She sat back in her seat and took in the landscape as they rode on. Her hair gently moved around as the warm soft breeze caressed her face and she sighed happily.

Finally they reached a private area, where the land protruded out into the sea, forming a C like shape, protecting the crystal clear brilliant blue water within it safely. Ruby gasped as she had never seen such beautiful water in her life and she fidgeted while waiting for their groom to come over and help her off the beast. Once she was down she almost started running to the water, but she stopped and ran back, petted the camel for a quick moment then ran off to the water leaving George to deal with the details.

She stopped at the water line taking in the majestic site for a long moment. She looked back over her shoulder to see if George brought his camera but instead of waiting to figure out the answer, she pulled off her boots and threw them to the side. Next her stockings came off quickly, and they floated in the air as she just carelessly let them go, then she hiked up the skirts on her new dress and just walked right into the sea. She yelled over her shoulder, "Oh George, hurry, it's so amazing!!" George laughs "In a moment" George helps the groom, Aziz, unload the camels and issues instructions. Aziz bows in acknowledgement as George heads down to the shoreline. He had brought his camera and sets it up while Ruby splashes in the water. "Ok my dear, how about another picture of you in the water? I haven't had a chance to take many pictures this trip. And this will be my first of the Mediterranean. So hold still and smile"

Ruby holds up her skirts and poses for the camera. George takes a few plates of Ruby band the beach and sea before packing the camera away. George then takes off his own shoes and rolls up his pants and splashes out to join Ruby. He takes her hand and they just stared out into the blue waters for a while. George looked over his shoulder for a moment, the turned back to Ruby. "Ok, it's ready." What is?" Ruby asked. George turned her around. there on the beach was a large, open tent with carpets laid out underneath. A small table held food, water and wine. A small separate tent stood nearby. "Ruby clapped her hands, squeeled and jumped up and down. "Oh George it looks so amazing, just what I had imagined." George smiled and lead her back up the beach to the tent. There were grapes, dates and naan laid out. More food had yet to be unpacked. Under the tent, with the slight breeze, it felt almost cool compared to the warm sun, but nice.

George and Ruby had some fruit and wine as they watched the gentle waves lapping against the shore. The soft roar of the waves was relaxing. After some time of relaxing and talking and laughing, George stood up. "Ready for your surprise?" "Surprise?" said Ruby "More than this?" she said gesturing around. George smiled and held out his hand and helped Ruby up. He lead her over to the smaller, enclosed tent. He opened the flaps and inside hangs a woman's bathing costume. Ruby's mouth dropped. "I had to pull some strings, but got one made up overnight. I figured it would not be a trip to the beach without heading out in to bathe in the calming waters of the Mediterranean."

Ruby stood and stared at the suit. "It looks nice..." she said hesitantly. George looked at her questioningly so she answered him by laughing and pointing at it. "That's more material then I wear with my dresses!" She laughed some more. "Well, I suppose it wouldn't do to shock our friend over there," she waved at the groom, "With my nakedness." She shook her head as she walked into the small tent, the lighter highlights in her hair reflecting the sun's rays making it look like her hair had golden strands running through it. She grabbed both edges of the fabric opening and closed it together. She stuck her head out, "You'd better not laugh at me," she said sternly before disappearing inside.

There was a lot of movement and grunting and even some cursing in the tent before Ruby reappeared with a scowl on her face. "I appreciate the effort darling but I feel ridiculous." She stepped out of the tent covered neck to ankles in the swimming outfit. "This is ridiculous. I'm doing to drown when all this," she pulled at the excess fabric, "Gets wet and weighs a million tons." She stood there before George pouting.

George smiles 'here" he says and he kneels in front of her. He takes out a small pocket knife and cuts the fabric just above the knee on each leg, and cuts the arms above the elbow. "There that will be a little better at least. And wait until you see mine" he says with a smile taking his turn in the tent. In a few moments he comes out in a bathing outfit, red and white stripes, tank top and trunks to his knees. "See, not much different than yours. And even if your suit does weigh a 100 pounds when it is wet, you have more than ample buoyancy" laughs George. "Come on let's go swim."

Ruby shrugged her shoulders as George emerged. "We can both look like idiots together then. Plus," she pinched his cheek, "I think, Mr. Eastman, you are obsessed with my breasts!! Of course I don't blame you, they are rather perfect," she stated matter of factly. Then she laughed and, standing on higher ground, jumped onto George's back, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. "Let's go!" George grabbed her legs to hold her on then ran into the water joining in her infectious laughter. He splashed out deeper into the water where he lost his footing and fell over, dropping both of them into the warm water. George came up laughing as he waited for Ruby to come up as she too laughed. George splashed Ruby and struck out with strong strokes and quickly heads out to deeper water. He pulls up and treads water as he looks back at Ruby smiling.

Ruby swam out to meet George, not being able to wipe the grin off her face. "I don't know when the last time I swam in an ocean was. Probably when I was a child, or at least, a lot younger than I am now. The summer before I left home probably. So... At least five years ago. Of course, my parents home was on Long Island Sound so while it was the ocean, there weren't very many waves. And it wasn't nearly as warm or pretty as this," she laughed. Ruby's brows came together for a moment. "I've been landlocked ever since I left. I think I don't like it very much. Being near the sea is calming. Does that make sense?" She looked to George curiously to see if he would agree.

George floated on his back and stared up at the azure sky. "I do understand. That is part of the wonder of Lake Ontario. It does serve as a mighty artery of commerce and access to most of the midwest. But it is also large enough that you can sail far from shore and not see land. Fewer, smaller waves, but still the serenity and calmness that large bodies of water bring. Actually I think it is water in truth, in essence. Water is so vital to life, it is the one necessity for every living thing. There is some organic connection to it, something deeper than Poseidon. Something that calls to us, touches us, brings us to water. Renewal, calmness, peace. Whether is is out on the boundless Pacific or sitting quietly near a small gurgling spring on a mountain top, or any journey water makes in between, there is something to water, to hear it, taste it, feel it, to be immersed in it, that is essential to our selves and our souls." George suddenly started up from his back, looked at Ruby a little sheepishly and turned red. "Sorry, I got a little lost in that." and self-consciously dived down deep into the water.

Ruby laughed and shook her head as George dove under. She knew from the last time they went swimming together that he could stay under a very long period of time, so she didn't get nervous when he did not come up right away. She floated on her back for a while, gazing at the bright blue cloudless sky. She was much more used to staring into the dark night, at the stars she loved so much. George was right, this beautiful warm water was calming and renewing. They both needed it after the past week they had. Twenty quiet minutes go by with George coming up to take a breath then diving back down again into the water before he finally tires and rejoins Ruby.

When George joined her, she was floating in the water, her long red hair swimming all around her head. "So, maybe we should make sure we have a house on the sea somewhere. What do you think darling?" She said, as she splashed a little bit of water at him, straightening herself out.George looks up at Ruby from beneath the water. With her hair flowing out in a crimson halo around her, she could have been a mermaid. He too floats next to her. As she asks her question George laughs. "Of course my love. A house on every sea if need be. We shall be traveling quite a bit so why not visit every sea we can yes?"

Ruby was quiet as she pondered. "Yes, I suppose seeing and swimming in every ocean would be wonderful... though aren't some of them very cold?" Ruby furrowed her brows trying to figure that out. She shrugged. "I don't think I should be greedy and ask for a house on every sea. But certainly you have promised me adventures all over the world so perhaps we should have a house here and there." She laughed heartily. "Well, we have friends here now so maybe here. But then all we have to do to get here is walk through the gate... So maybe not..."

"Exactly. Through I have some plans for some airships. Ones that perhaps can go quite quickly. But that is in the future. And yes some of the seas are cold, but we don't have to stay in those long" laughs George. "Airships? What in Hades are you on about now? My love, don't spread yourself too thin with all this talk of... All this stuff! Your dream has been this photography stuff for so long and now you are talking about weapons and airships... While I have a lot of faith you can do anything you set your mind to... After all, you did the impossible and never gave up and won my heart..." she giggled, "I just don't want you to not be able to accomplish your dream because you made too many... Other dreams. Do you know what I am saying?"

"Well, I started and have grown Eastman Industries into the largest photographic company in the world. I did pursue you and won your heart. I obviously need a new challenge. One that is actually hard to achieve." George tried to keep a straight face but laughed as Ruby pouted and splashed his. The laughing didn't help when she pushed his head under water. He came up choking but still giggling. "Yes my love, no dream was as important or worth pursuing as you. But I do know what you're saying. But there are so many things to improve, to build, to do. For these other industries though, I would start them, and let trusted lieutenants run them under my supervision.

The pictures I was able to take from the French airship? Amazing. It will allow us to survey so much more accurately. Really the munitions factory is only for Egypt. I don't intend to create chains of them. I merely want to make sure that Egypt stays free. A strong, modern military is the best way to ensure that against colonial desires of European powers. But airships. Wow. That is a natural pairing with photography. I will drop some money into R&D now to get the ball rolling but it will take some time to get the thing going. But look my dear. You come first. Then Eastman Industries, then AGELESS. THEN a new airship company. Ok?"

Ruby shook her head and frowned as George spoke. "I don't know what most of that means... R&D.. Colonial desires..." She thinks on it for a moment before the corner of her lips turn up. "However, I do agree that I should be the most important thing in your life. By far. Like, not even a question. You're suppose to spend your life telling me how wonderful and amazing I am and that nothing else in your like makes you as happy as I do." She cracked up laughing as she swam towards George, and when she got close she wrapped her arms around his neck. She spoke into his ear, "Okay, maybe not that much... But close."

George whispers back "Haven't I always? Won't I always?" before turning his head and slowly and gently kissing Ruby quite thoroughly. Ruby returned his kiss. "Yes, you have always told me how much I mean to you and I know you always will." She kissed him again. "So what else do we have planned for today? I will be sad to leave here and have to share you again." "Today is just a beach day. I have nothing else planned. I do need to go to the canal tomorrow, but that should only be half a day if you want to sleep in or shop." replies George

They continued to talk as George swam and Ruby lazily hung into his neck, letting him drag her around. "Hmmm... Well, we are on vacation so we should do both! I will come with you to the canal if you want. Plus I told you I need to buy some presents. But right now we can just enjoy this." Ruby closed her eyes and enjoyed the warm sea and the intense sun on her, breathing in the fresh, salty air.

Some time passed, Ruby wasn't sure how much, before she finally opened her eyes. "We should go eat. I know you are not surprised to find I am hungry and you have brought along quite the feast up there," Ruby said while eyeing it. She grabbed George's hand and dragged him out of the water. They dry off then head inside the grand tent to enjoy their lunch. The rest of their time at the beach seemed to fly by quickly. After they ate their delicious lunch, they laid out and enjoyed the sun's rays before enjoying another dip to cool off. George spent some more time taking various photos of the landscape while Ruby continued her swim. They walked along the beach for a while, holding hands while Ruby looked for seashells. Finally it grew later in the day and George suggested they take their leave of the sea.

The groom packed up the food and main tent while George and Ruby changed back into regular clothes. As the sun slowly sank into the Mediterranean, it cast the few clouds above into a pink light. Dusk was approaching as the three camels moseyed into town. George and Ruby dismounted, and George not only tipped the groom but insisted he take all the leftover food back to his family, which got him such a deep salaam that George even felt a bit embarrassed. George and Ruby walked arm in arm as the stars twinkled into the sky. A long walk back to the hotel in the cool desert breeze was a perfect way to end the day.

Silver Moon

Chapters 144, September 15, 1882, "Egyptian Vacation, Part 3: One Very Special Star"

Ruby and George returned to their hotel room, their large corner suite that overlooked the sea. George excused himself to go downstairs to speak with the front desk about the next day while Ruby changed into her nightgown and set out a glass of bourbon for herself and a scotch for George. She took her time combing out her long hair, the salty sea water having made it more wavy than usual. It was a calming ritual that soothed her. When George finally returned he found all the windows and doors wide open, the cool breeze circling through their room. Ruby was out on the balcony, her hair and pink gown swirling around her. The bright moon outside lit her from behind and George could clearly see her naked form under the sheer material of her nightgown. She was, as usual, staring up at the brilliant stars filling the dark cloudless sky.

George came up behind Ruby, wrapping his left arm around her and resting his hand flat on her belly. Ruby laid her head back on George's shoulder. "It's so beautiful here, don't you think? The stars are so bright and full of sparkle. " "Indeed they are." Replies George staring up at the sky as well. He bent down and kissed her shoulder. "None shine as brightly as my star here on Earth." Ruby turned to face George, "Why, Mr. Eastman, I think that may be the most wonderful thing anyone has said to me," she said reaching up to kiss him. "Well that sounds like a challenge to me." Says George grinning. "See if I can top my own wit in describing the beauty of Ruby West in ever-more eloquent superlatives."

"I don't know what su-pearl-atives means but I think you mean compliments." Ruby laughed lightly. "I will never, ever complain about your compliments my love. It makes me so very happy to know my appearance pleases you." She kissed him lightly again then with a mischievous smile stepped away towards the balcony railing, sliding her arms along the railing striking a pose. "Does my gown please you too?"

George stood and admired the curvaceous form silhouetted before him. "You know indeed it does." He says watching Ruby further. George looks up. "Seems a shame to waste all these beautiful stars." He said cryptically. With a grin he turns and slips into the room. He returns a moment later with an armload of blankets. He spreads them out on the balcony in several layers before adding a few pillows. Ruby looks on with a mischievous grin. Finally George seems satisfied with the outdoor bed before turning to Ruby. He extends his hand, and pulls her into his arms, beginning a long night of passion out under the stars.

The next morning, Ruby drifted in and out of sleep as the sun rose higher in the sky. She had been so comfortable in the cool air lying with George she didn’t want to move. But now he was missing and she started to get cold. She stretched her arms over her head as she looked out over the sea, sad that their time here was ending. Finally she got up and wrapped her robe around herself. George was reading a paper at the table. “Good morning darling,” she said as she wrapped her arms around George’s neck then kissed him from behind. “I hope you slept well.” “Indeed I did,” replied George before leaving a kiss on Ruby’s arm. “You?”

“Of course, I always sleep well when you are with me.” Ruby slid into the chair next to George and yawned. “Are you ready for your business?” George folded his newspapers and put them aside. “Yes, mostly. I have to get dressed and you have to get dressed. And of course, breakfast.” Almost on cue there was a knock on the door. George rose to get it while Ruby yawned again. Very enthusiastic wait staff flowed into the room with trays and trays of food. George laughs, “Since you are always hungry I thought I would order an array of items so you could have your very own miniature buffet.”

“How wonderful!” Ruby grinned and waited excitedly for the food to be down on the table. The waiters started uncovering all kinds of food, from traditional American breakfast foods to more unusual Egyptian delicacies. Steam waifed off the hot dishes, with the exotic scents curling into the air. Ruby took in a long sniff of the food and the smile slowly faded off her face.

George looked to her, concerned. “What’s the matter? Does this not please you?” he said as he waved his hand over the food. “No, it looks good,” she said, her face looking rather greenish, “It’s just… just…” With that she jumped up from the table and ran to the bathroom, stunning the poor staff that was still in the room. “Uh, that will be all,” George said to the staff dismissing them. George got up and went to the bathroom. He knocked on the door. “Are you alright my love?” There was no answer so George gently pushed the door open.

He was greeted by the sight of Ruby on knees, throwing up into the trash can. He rushed over and held her hair back with one hand while grabbing for a towel with the other. After a few minutes of that she kneeled back on feet, wiping her mouth. “Ewwwww,” she said scrunching her nose. “I must have eaten too much exotic food yesterday, my belly doesn’t feel well.”

“Yes, perhaps too much sun or exertion from swimming. Though I would have expected any of those things to have caused other intestinal issues rather than nausea. Still, better to have you rest today then. I will have them send up some weak tea and some toast for you. After you get everything up and get back in bed that is,” says George. Ruby scrunched her nose. “Ewww, I don’t want to talk about that medical stuff!” She put her hand over her belly, “Thinking of that makes it worse. I’ll be okay.” She took a long pause to see if that was actually true. She took in a deep breath, “But I want to go shopping today. I don’t want to get sick and die here in Egypt!”

"My love, you will not get sick and die here in Egypt. Do you think the Queen would allow that? Of course not. So let's get you dressed, and after you feel better I will drop you off in the shops. Maybe I can arrange for an escort in case you get sick again. I will make short work of the trip to the canal and meet you back here in the afternoon. Ok?" says George kissing Ruby gently. "Ok," Ruby answered weakly. George left to go arrange for a woman to accompany Ruby into town. When he returned Ruby had thrown up a second time, but was feeling considerably better. She ate some toast and tea and by the time she was dressed felt mostly like her old self again. George dropped off Ruby with Emadi, a local woman to help Ruby shop while he left to inspect the canal.

George took the train out to the canal, then used a horse to head up and down. He took inventory of buildings and facilities, making a list in his trusty magical journal of what would be needed for the new canal force. Ruby meanwhile felt much better and had a very successful and relaxing time shopping. Emadi spoke some English and was able to help Ruby find the best shops for shoes, clothes and more. She found a small set of carved wooden toy camels that were enchanted to move on their own, as well as an enchanted wooden sphinx that would fly in circles when you wound up the magical spring. Those she bought for her brother Benjamin back in New York.

She found some beautiful linen shawls dyed in traditional Egyptian colors to bring back for all her lady friends and family. She picked up some woven tapestries for her and George’s new home and while she hesitated at first, eventually she did pick some out for her teacher and the El Parador and the Lucky Lady.
While Ruby was getting measured for more exotic and colorful Egyptian clothing she noticed there was a lot of rapid speech amongst the locals and her guide. Ruby raised an eyebrow at them and they stopped, and Ruby didn’t bother to ask what gossip could have possibly gotten everyone in such a tizzy.

Ruby was much improved while finishing her shopping and even stopped to get some chicken shwarma before she met back up with George. Back at the hotel laden with purchases, she checked for George in their room to find he was not there. She dropped off the purchases and headed back downstairs to the boardwalk. She found a seat in the sun facing the water and breathed in the fresh air, sad to be leaving soon.

Just after the sun had sunk into the Mediterranean, yet still painted the sky pink, George returned. “Hello my darling, have a good day?” he asked. “I went shopping so that was fun, though without you it isn’t quite as nice. Though I will model it for you later” she added with a mischievous grin. George returned the grin and sat down beside her. “I look forward to it. Did you eat?” Ruby nodded “I knew you wouldn’t miss a meal” George signaled over to a member of the hotel staff and placed an order for some food to be brought out. George and Ruby sat and watched the last lights fade in the west as the stars came out. They ate, Ruby lightly, as they enjoyed the evening breeze.

George finishes the last of his naan and washes it down with some scotch. “Ok, are you ready for a surprise?” George asks innocently. Ruby sits up “A surprise? I love surprises, what is it?” George laughed “Now Ruby, if I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise would it?” George stood up and took Ruby by the hand and led her back upstairs to their room. He paused outside the door and removed a silk scarf from his pocket. “Now close your eyes” he said. Ruby pouted but George said “close them!” Ruby, still pouting closed her eyes and George wrapped the folded up scarf over her eyes.

George opened the door and lead Ruby inside. Ruby stood there for a few minutes as she heard George puttering around, moving things and opening doors. George was back in a moment and took her by the hand again and led her forward. “Ok, now leave the blindfold on, but sit down crossed legged.” He instructs her. Ruby sits down, and feels around with her hands and feels fabric of some kind. Suddenly, she feels a lurch and the wind on her face. “Ok, take off your blindfold” says George. Ruby removes the blindfold to see herself well over 50 feet in the air, as the hotel and their open window retreat behind them. Looking down, she was on a magic carpet!

Ruby squealed with delight before poking George, her excitement overtaking her sometimes fear of heights. “Ok, where did you steal this from?” she asked with a grin. “Oh from some prince,” laughed George back. “I borrowed it to get back to Zakazik more quickly. Since this was state business, I rated the ride.”

“Well, I hope I get to enjoy this ride. The last time I was on one of these we had to race back to Cairo at break-neck speed.” George smiled at her, “Well, I do need to be back in Zakazik for tomorrow, but, we don’t have to be there tonight.” George directed the carpet higher, and faster, heading west. Soon they caught the sunset, enjoying the golden light for almost an hour as they chased it over the Mediterranean. Finally George turned the carpet back east and slowed it down, though kept the altitude. They slowly meandered back towards the Nile. They could see a few lights flickering throughout the small villages beneath them, though they were dim compared to the radiant canopy of stars above them. George and Ruby lay back on the carpet for some time, as George pointed out planets, stars and constellations to Ruby as she lay comfortable in his arms.

“There is one very special star I wanted to point out to you tonight,” says George after some time. “It is a rare and special star, and one I have loved since first its light touched me. That star is you Constance, my Ruby, my star, my Polaris. Your beauty outshines any star in the heavens, and yet you dwell here on earth with us mere mortals. So to secure your position on earth, will you Miss Constance Grace West marry me?” asks George rolling onto his side and presenting Ruby with a platinum ring containing a beautiful emerald cut ruby and diamond ring. The ruby is surrounded by diamonds that sparkle and gleam in the moonlight, and the band is also covered in diamonds.

Ruby gasped, sat up and blinked at the ring, then looked up and blinked at George, then looked down at the ring and blinked again. It looked to George like Ruby was trying to say something but no words were coming out. Long moments go by with her just staring. Finally she looked up at George with large green eyes, those eyes looking watery. “I-I don’t understand?” She looked to her ring finger, a large diamond already glittering there. George smiles “Well, the last time I proposed was rather unplanned and less than as romantic as I would have wanted. And there are no rules saying I can’t propose multiple times. Hell I already have! There are also some not so happy memories with that ring.

But you have said yes once. I hope you do again. But yes, I found this beautiful Egyptian ruby while I was out the other day and knew it suited you, that it was meant for you as you were meant for me. So why not make our proposal as memorable as our life has been together? What do you say my star? Will you bless me with your light and love for the rest of our lives?” Ruby’s breath caught in her throat and a couple of tears of joy started running down her pink cheeks. She nodded her head a few times before sputtering out, “Yes, yes of course!” She embraced George then, pushing her face into his shoulder where she grabbed him while he held her tightly and he whispered loving words into her ear.

Finally she calmed down and could face him. George’s handsome face was beaming, his eyes lit up with the glow of love. Ruby kissed him and knew she didn’t have to say much, George knew her so well, he already knew what she would say. He wiped away her tears, “No more crying my love, even happy tears should be banished. Come, let me try this on you.” He gently tugged the diamond ring off her finger and slid it into his pocket. He took that ruby ring, the most perfect, sparkly ruby ring Ruby had ever seen, and delicately positioned it on her slender finger. She admired it sitting there, like it was always meant to.

Long, quiet moments passed between them before Ruby spoke again. She set her green eyes on George and smiled softly at him. “George, I am not sure I have ever told you just how much I love you. And adore you. And, how I am so very thankful to have you in my life.” She took a deep breath in and took both his hands on hers. “I know I haven’t told you everything about what happened when I left home and you have said you do not care. But it had shaped me to who I was and some of the things I had been through, well…” She sighed.

“I had run off from Rochester, mostly from my family but also from you. I was so young and, well, scared. I didn’t want to get married. I didn’t want someone to control me, control me like both of my parents had tried my whole life. I never really considered what it would be like to marry you, what kind of a husband you would be or what life would be like with you. I just pushed back against my parents telling me what to do once again. And I felt like they were just using me, selling me off to you to make themselves look better. After all you were young, handsome, intelligent, you had a lot of potential and were getting richer by the minute. Of course, it was probably mostly that last one that made my parents happy,” she chuckled.

“So I went out into the world, I trusted people I should not have and I got hurt. After that I shut myself off from everyone, I shut all feelings out of my life, to save myself from the pain of being hurt again.” She paused and considered her words before going forward. “Promise City changed that. I made a lot of friends, people who became my family, and I opened myself up to friendship.” She paused again, “And love. Lots of different kinds of love. My heart opened up again and it felt really good.”

She carefully continued. “When you showed up in Promise City I was so protective of the love I thought was certain I didn’t really even consider you. Then everything that happened… I felt so terrible and guilty. And I wasn’t really sure why I did, but I did. None of that was your fault, only mine for being stubborn and blind.” A sad smile comes to Ruby’s face. “But then my heart was broken by that certain love. There was a time I thought I would die if I didn’t have it. But it really wasn’t so bad,” she shakes her head, her long red hair blowing around her face from the wind and her smile turned happy, “It wasn’t bad because then the thoughts of you really started to fill my head. And, my heart. And I knew I needed to come and see you, away from there, to see what kind of man you had become.

I have such wonderful memories of us being young together. Stealing sweets out of my parent’s kitchen to take on our long walks through the woods.” She giggled lightly, “You being mortified when I took off my fancy dress and climbed a tree in my undergarments. Us swimming in my parent’s lake together.” Her smile grew larger and she squeezed his hands, “I mean, MY lake.

The night we got engaged in New York, I told you that I thought I loved you all along. And really when I think about everything we’ve been through, there truly isn’t a time I can remember that I did not love you. Sure, in Promise City I denied it and tried to not think about it, but it was there. Even then I admitted to myself that I loved you at least as a friend. I think Jake sensed it too, he really hated you and was jealous and I don’t think he trusted me when I spoke about you.” She shrugged. “All that doesn’t matter, what matters is that I really HAVE always loved you. And all the things I wanted, all the things I have always said were important and have wanted have come true in you. And will continue to come true in what our life will be together. Travel, music, dance, adventure, romance. I want someone to take care of me, someone to have fun with, someone to respect me but most of all, someone I can trust. Trust that when you say you love me too, you truly mean it.

And George Eastman, you are the only person in my whole life who I believe without a doubt when you say you love me,” She furrowed her brow and paused then grinned, “Well, actually I can say that about Nana too and perhaps Kate and Mr. Gonzales.” She laughed, “What? It’s been a busy year.” She laughed again and squeezed his hands tighter. “You are handsome, so handsome, wise, intelligent, silly, romantic, sexy, loyal, protective and I know you would fight for me to your dying breath. I know it in my heart,” she placed his hand snugly over her breast, “There is a peace in my heart now I have never had before, I just know in my heart you will love me forever to the depths of your soul. You will never break my heart, you will never leave me.

So how could I not fall in love and be in love with you forever? How could I not adore you?” She leaned in and kissed him softly. “So I would marry you today, tomorrow and every day for the rest of our lives. How could I not?” The corners of her full lips turn up into a dazzling smile, “They say once you have caught a fallen star, they are yours forever and ever until the end of time.” Ruby kissed him again then snuggled into his arms, gazing happily at her new ring.

George directed the carpet to circle in a slow, lazy manner for a while as he and Ruby just held each other, immersed in the joy of the moment. The earth below was dark; the sky above twinkled in a merry way as the stars stood witness to their love and passion. There above the void of nighted earth, and below the myriad canopy of stars, themselves the long legacy of Fate, two souls who were destined for each other, finally were sealed. Though she had run for years from her fate and destiny, Ruby West had been run down, for no one escapes the Fates, especially Lachesis the Measurer. Ruby had surrendered to her fate, and found it had been what she had sought when she had run away from it, unaware it was what she truly desired all along. In that evening, finally, were the threads of their life spun together as they always were meant to be. Now, with no equivocation, mental reservation, or hesitation they gave themselves to each other utterly. Doomed, destined, fated, prophesied, soul mates, the terms littered history, theirs was merely the latest incarnation of that which empowers the universe. Two threads, now as one. Forever. Always.

Ruby sighed softly in George’s arms and snuggled closer. George felt her body relax and knew she was nearing sleep so he directed the carpet to finally return them to Zakazik. After an hour or so, the carpet slowed and gently descended to the front of the Grand Hotel. George gave Ruby a little nudge and she reluctantly sat up and exited off the carpet. As George waved some of the Queen’s guards over to collect the carpet he noticed the Queen’s carriage had already arrived with their belongings. Once the carpet was secured they entered the hotel.

It was fairly late so Ruby was surprised to find her grandmother and James in the lobby sipping wine at the bar. Mina slid off the chair to give the approaching Ruby space to envelope her in a huge, sleepy hug while James gave George a hearty handshake and pat on the back. Mina pushed some hair out of Ruby’s eyes then kissed her forehead. “You two look like you had a good time.” Ruby smiled up at her grandmother, “Oh Nana, it was so wonderful…” The four of them sit at the bar for some time while Ruby gives a short version of their time together.

Silver Moon

AGELESS Campaign - Chapter 145, “The Battle of Wilson's Creek”

Sitting at the bar in Zakazik, the AGELESS group recounts tales of the collective pasts. James Parker then begins the tale of how he and Lawrence became acquainted with one another. “Lawrence Cantrell and first I met on August 9th, 1861 in Springfield Missouri. On the very next day the two of us became unfortunate spectators on the front lines at the Civil War battle of Wilson’s Creek, also known by the Confederacy as the Battle of Oak Hills. This was the second major battle of the Civil War and the first one fought west of the Mississippi River.

What we were doing there is an interesting story in and of itself. Following the outbreak of hostilities and blockade of southern ports the flow of spell components and other necessities for wizard magics all but dried up. Most of these items came into the United States through French sources in New Orleans, Louisiana or from Spanish sources up through Mexico and into Texas. With the war embargo on, any contraband goods from the south became impossible to obtain, making the task of wizard magic near impossible for myself and several other northern wizards.

So I made arrangements through mutual friends to obtain a large shipment of these contraband materials. I found out about Lawrence Cantrell and his connections through a mutual friend, and he acted as the middle-man for this transaction. His supplier was a Confederate staff sergeant who had been assigned as quartermaster to the Third Louisiana Infantry. That unit was mostly from northern Louisiana, but the Sergeant and a handful of others were from New Orleans, and he had all the right contacts for the items I needed.

I received notice in late July 1861 that the items had been obtained and were traveling with the Third Louisiana Infantry to northwestern Arkansas. The Sergeant felt that that the brigade which he was assigned to would soon be crossing over into southeastern Missouri. He suspected this because his unit had been paired with a group comprised of eager but untrained Confederate volunteers from Missouri who had been assembled by that state’s recently resigned Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson.

The context of this situation was that Missouri was a slave state, but in February 1861 their legislature voted to not join the Confederacy, thus they remained part of the Union. They officially declared neutrality towards the armed conflict, but as a member of the Union had to allow United States troops to be posted there. Governor Jackson strongly supported succession, and began to form his own State militia with arms smuggled in by the Confederacy. An anti-succession United States Army Captain in Missouri named Nathaniel Lyon then confiscated this militia’s stockpiled ammunition and artillery, which led to civil unrest.

President Lincoln took a hard line approach and promoted Lyon to Brigadier General, putting him in charge of all Missouri Army forces. This prompted Governor Jackson to resign and flee across the Arkansas border along with several thousand pro-succession volunteers, where he was then made a Confederate General. The Missouri legislature in Springfield appointed a new acting Governor and voted once again to remain part of the Union.

There were then several minor skirmishes between these soldiers and the United States troops in June and July. With Jackson’s troops just seventy-five miles away from Springfield, Lyon moved his own Army Regiment to guard the city. His forces consisted of approximately 6,000 troops comprised of infantry from Missouri, Iowa and Kansas, who were then supported by several companies of regular army cavalry and artillery.

For the purposes of my own objective, this situation appeared ideal. It meant that I would have safe railroads to travel on all the way to and from Springfield, Missouri, and would only have to travel a short distance to get to either northwestern Arkansas or southwestern Missouri to pick up the supplies. I arrived in Springfield on August 8th, and the following morning met up with Lawrence Cantrell, who until that point I had only communicated with though mutual acquaintances.”

Lawrence interjects “I had seen photographs of James Parker before so was able to quickly identify him.” James nods and says, “Indeed. And Lawrence then informed me what that the conflict situation had intensified, that the Confederate forces had mobilized and were now only fifteen miles southwest of Springfield. Furthermore, they had been reinforced by other volunteers from Arkansas and Missouri, with the total Confederate force now numbering 12,000. General Lyon was therefore outnumbered two-to-one and there was a strong possibility that Springfield might soon fall.

That also meant that if we were to obtain the supplies we had to do so before the possible siege and battle of Springfield. Lawrence was awaiting final word from the Confederate sergeant, which was relayed through a sympathetic female spy that afternoon. The Sergeant said that he would meet us with the items two hours after dawn of the following morning at the Wilson Township Post Office, which was a stagecoach stop along the main telegraph road, ten miles southwest of Springfield.

We left immediately, arriving in the area later that evening just as a heavy rain began to fall. We camped out on a hill within sight of the farmhouse where the Postmaster lived. The hill also gave us a good view of the surrounding countryside, and from there we could see hundreds of Confederate campfires within a few miles of our position. What Lawrence and I didn’t realize was that we had placed ourselves right dab smack in the middle of both moving armies.

The Confederate commander General McCulloch had decided to march on Springfield, but then delayed their departure due to the rain, fearing that their limited ammunition would get wet in transit. And upon hearing from his own spies that the Confederates were preparing to march, Union General Lyon mobilized the majority his forces. Unbeknownst to us, they had left Springfield just a few hours after we had.

So as the sun rose on the 10th, Lawrence and I casually packed up our belongings and headed down in the direction of the farmhouse to await our contact and merchandise. We got far more than we bargained for, as both armies were now moving and closing in upon our very location. We heard some musket fire around a mile off, but assumed it to be just a local shooting game.

We had just reached the far end of the large cornfield owned by the Postmaster and saw several of his children herding horses in an adjacent field. A group of mounted United States soldiers then rode up and yelled to the children “Get to shelter, there’s going to be fighting like Hades in less than ten minutes.” The children retreated to the Postmaster’s farmhouse and in hindsight Lawrence and should have too, but we feared that the Union Soldiers now filling the road might mistake us for Confederate scouts and fire upon us.

So we hunkered down at the far end of the cornfield and watched as a major battle unfolded. Three companies of United States Infantry, totaling around 300 troops, soon arrived followed by several hundred infantry and cavalry from Kansas and Missouri. The Confederates from Arkansas and Louisiana then came up from the southern road and outnumbered them three-to-one, but the southerns were armed mostly with muskets, squirrel rifles and shotguns, all short-range weapons. The U.S. troops had the newest long-range arms, so could fire from a safe distance still out of range of their opponents.

As the cornfield turned into a battlefield Lawrence and I initially considered heading back up the hill, until United States artillery then fired from the top of that same hill and was countered by a Confederate battery firing back. Three times during the cornfield battle entire waves of confederate soldiers swept through our position, with us moving with them each time to make them think we were their allies, until it was safe for us to fall back again. Surprisingly we were never hit by fire from either side, although at least a dozen bullets and a cannonball or two came rather close.

The Union army was forced to pull back. They were then reinforced with an entire brigade of 1,200 infantry and gave a counter surge, causing the Confederates to retreat, with the brigade pursuing them. Major fighting was still going on back at the hill, but the cornfield was finally quiet, as more Union troops arrived. These were all regular army troops, and when I heard a group of men with unmistakable Boston accents I spoke up with my own and we came out of hiding. I explained that Lawrence and I had been seeking the postmaster when the fighting began. They then escorted us to the home of Postmaster John Ray.

As the start of the battle Ray had ushered his wife Roxanna, his eleven children, his hired hand Julius Short and an Ogress slave called Aunt Rhoda all down into their storm cellar. John Ray watched the fighting until it got too close, then he joined his family down below. They were still hiding down there while the house was turned into an Union Army Hospital, with Doctors treating the dozen of wounded now lying atop every piece of furniture in the home. Lawrence and I volunteered our services to head doctor Samuel Melcher, who put us to work as nurse assistants. When the Ray family eventually emerged from hiding they too were all put to work providing assistance to the surgeons.

Word reached us that while General Lyon’s brigade held what was now called ‘Bloody Hill'. He had another brigade under Colonel Franz swing around with a flanking maneuver to surprise the Confederates and rout them. It almost worked, but Franz’s group then encountered the 700-man Third Louisiana Infantry. Uniform colors had not been standardized, and this local southern militia wore blue uniforms that almost exactly matched that of the Union Army. Mistakenly believing these to be Union allies, they allowed them to get close enough for hand-to-hand combat before their identity was discovered, and a bloody skirmish erupted. That halted the Union advance.

At 9:30 A.M. word arrived that General Lyons and other senior officers had been killed, with the ranking officer on the hill being only a Major. Confederate forces now charged our position in great number and the Union Army retreated. Most of the wounded could not be moved and Doctor Melcher announced that he was staying.” Lawrence adds, “Ray’s handiman Julius Short was actually my local contact, and he quietly suggested that we stay as well in hopes of completing out planned transaction.”

The Confederates swarmed our position, with their own Doctors deciding to continue the building’s role as a hospital, now bringing in Confederate wounded. They let the Union surgeons continue to operate, but I was a mere aid and once they heard my Yankee accent a Confederate Officer ordered our arrest.

After we identified ourselves by name we were then rescued though an amazing coincidence.” Lawrence says, “Yes indeed. The senior Confederate physician in charge from the First Arkansas Mounted Rifle Brigade turned out to be Doctor William Cantrell, my Great Uncle. I had never met my grandfather’s youngest brother before, but we had both heard of one another. He vouched for the two of us so we continued to provide assistance to the surgeons.”

James continues, “The Confederate advance then stalled, as Union Major Samuel Sturgis up on Bloody Hill proved to be a very able commander and artillerist, keeping position of the hill and raining artillery down on the multitude of Confederate units. A few shots came near the building until Yellow flags were raised to identify us as a hospital.

Then in yet another case of mistaken identity, Sturgis allowed a Confederate Brigade from Arkansas to approach and climb Bloody Hill from the west. He thought these were Union reinforcements, as they wore uniforms the same shade of military gray as the First Iowa Infantry, who comprised one-sixth of the Union troops.

Once the hill was abandoned a full Union retreat was ordered by Sturgis. This order was temporarily counter-maned by the senior Union officer, Major-General Sigel, who held the road north of Wilson’s Creek until 11:30 AM at which time they were low on artillery and other ammunition, so a full retreat to Springfield was ordered. Sigel himself was then cut off and almost captured by enemy forces, who amazingly allowed him ride by, as he wore a blanket-style cape and hat that was very similar to those worn by the Confederate Third Texas Cavalry, a group that had been held in reserve through most of the fighting.

Union General Lyon’s corpse was found and brought into the makeshift hospital where Doctor Cantrell was insistent upon removing the bullet that killed him before returning the body to the United States. Finding this curious, I managed to have Lawrence perform a slight-of-hand maneuver and replace the shell with another one. Doctor Cantrell got us an official pass to get through the Confederate lines and back to land held by the United States. The man named Short was able to then have us secretly meet up with the Louisiana quartermaster for our planned transaction, although I had to limit the transaction to only the smaller more easily concealed items.

So the Confederates won the day, although the 2,500 casualties were rather evenly divided between the two sides. The Union abandoned Springfield the next day, leaving southwestern Missouri in Confederate hands from which they launched guerilla attacks elsewhere throughout Missouri for the remainder of the war. That battle’s confusion also highlighted the need by both sides to attire each army with uniforms of a single identifiable color.

I was able to later identify the bullet which killed General Lyons as magical in nature, a rare and highly illegal item known as a ‘Targeted Bullet’, that is customized to slay a specific individual. It had been made by a Confederate wizard and weapon-smith named Bailey, a man who years later provided a similar bullet to John Wilkes Booth for his assassination of President Lincoln. Ruby and Nanuet can also give you a first-hand account about that type of magic item, as earlier this year the very same Bailey provided the outlaw Johnny Ringo with targeted bullets customized for each of them.

Lyon had been a brilliant commander whose life had been cut short through wizardry. For me the Battle of Wilson Creek was the inspiration to establish my undercover espionage team, to keep magic from being used by the Confederacy to change the outcomes of battles. And Lawrence became the first person I recruited to join that team, due to our shared experience that on day.”

This Concludes the second module of the AGELESS Campaign. Reader comments are welcomed and appreciated.


Queen of Everything
What an awesome story! So glad you had that little surprise.

Ruby will surely never forget her run in with her "special" bullet. I believe Nanuet removed it with magic, and she kept the shell with her name on it.

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Silver Moon

What an awesome story! So glad you had that little surprise.
Thank you Queenie. It is funny how one historical fact can spin itself into a whole historical interlude. Once I came across the fact that a confederate doctor at the Battle of Wilson's Creek was named William Cantrell it was just a matter of figuring out how Lawrence Cantrell and James Parker would have been there as well.

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