Fortune's Fools

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Persepolis, Iran-Iraq border, 1937...


"This way, this way please," Amir said, stooping through the tunnels and turning now and then to make sure the Professor was following. His friend Majid was bringing up the rear, holding a torch that flickered and sputtered in the darkness.

Between the two Iranians, the Professor remained silent, adjusting his hat now and then and scowling impatiently.

"We call for you as soon as it happen, Professor," said Amir, sweating and smiling, "My friend Majid - he find it, not long, not long."

"East tunnel," Majid added, before a scowl from Amir made him lower his head again.

The trio continued down the tunnels, moving from the newer excavations to the deeper Persian vault. The other workers had been evacuated on the Professor's orders, taking with them the few clay pots and old bones they had found so far.

Finally, in the eastern tunnels, Amir turned and bowed nervously, pointing to a hole in the ground. Majid held the torch and the Professor crouched slowly, lighting a second one and dropping it through the opening.

The flame fell for a few seconds then struck something metal, lighting up a chamber below. Removing his hat, the Professor marvelled at the half-glimpsed sarcophagi and statues, shimmering in dark metal.

"This good find, yes?" Amir asked the Professor, standing beside his friend and smiling hopefully.

The Professor stood and turned to them. "Why yes," he said, his voice the finest German, "The find of the century."

The luger roared like thunder, lighting up the tunnel as the two Iranians jerked and struck the wall. Blood sprayed and their cries were cut short. They slumped to the ground, leaving only silence.

Lifting Majid's torch, the light fell upon the blood-flecked face of the killer.


Colonel Seiler smiled devilishly and stepped over the bodies, gazing again into the tomb below.

The Fuhrer would be pleased... very pleased indeed.

Blexford Manor, Oxford, England, one month later...


"Amelia! Amelia!! AMELIA!! Where is that unsufferable girl?"

Roger Darcy dashed across the grand hallway, dodging statues and ornaments. He was carrying a tray of drinks in one hand and a pair of slippers in the other. Pushing past a maid who was lugging a chair into the lounge, the butler yelled up the marble staircase.


A couple of groundsmen arrived with a bucket of logs and stared at him. The butler gestured impatiently towards the study. The groundsmen left.

"No help!" Darcy muttered as he swept towards the kitchen, "I get no help! This is ridiculous! How am I supposed to plan for guests when I don't know who the guests are? Ridiculous!" He called for the girl one last time before rushing into the kitchen. "Are we ready? Are you ready? Ready.. are we? Yes? No? Right!"

The cook stared at him and before she could answer the butler was gone.

"AMELIA!" Darcy yelled as he returned to the hall. "Bedroom four! BEDROOM FOUR!" he shouted at the maid, who continued lugging large pieces of furniture that were far too heavy for her.

Through the open door of the study, oblivious to all the chaos, Professor Stern sat by the fireplace and lit a cigar. He put his feet up and waited patiently for his guests while his butler fretted.

Beallara adjusted her long red locks of hair, tucking wisps that had fallen from the neat knot at the back of her head behind her ear. Eyeing the manor before her, she lifted the briefcase from she spot she had just set it.

"Time to do this, I suppose," she said absently, looking around at the lovely English country with a mild, almost blank, stare. The light click of her sensible heels on the steps barely registered in her head as she ascended to the door, her long green skirt falling around her ankle thankfully did not impede her movement.

Looking around before she knocked, Lara made a small face as she heard a sort of commotion inside. Am I early?

Delariel rolled her eyes sarcastically as a man next to her nearly babbled. She tilted her head, smiling at him, as she heard his inquiry. Something about going out for drinks sometimes. The cruel edge to her was maked momentarily as she flitted her eyebrows at the man.

"I'm kept so busy with my work, I don't know..." she said, engineering a longing in her tone - a false wish that she could go for drinks with him. "Come to think of it, what do you do?" she asked conquettishly, knowing already the answer. The man smiled at her and she could tell he wasn't giving up either detail easily.

Leaning closer to the man, she maneuvered her lithe body near his so he could stare in awe at her undeniable... charms. The man knew something about the tomb, and she needed more information.
[color="#Gray"]Amelia McCallister ♪Amy[/color]

Amelia this. Amelia that. There's no way he's going to make me serve the guests today...

Stubborn as always, Amelia ignored Darcy's frustrated shouts as she placed the finishing pieces on her model of an ancient Greek Theater. The delicate piece of plaster was just about to dry as she hot-glued it to the rest of the pieces when Darcy's loudest shout yet echoed up to her room. Startled, Amelia accidentally pressed the tip to her finger. As soon as the hot glue made contact with her skin, she dropped both the gun and the piece of plaster, wincing. "Ouch...That Darcy..." she frowned, cleaning her finger and blowing on it before shaking her hand in the air to get the feeling to go away.

As he called for her once again, Amelia sighed in frustration. She might as well answer him before he has a nervous breakdown. She couldn't tell if Uncle Stern would care, but she didn't want to cause trouble, as it was, she just boarding here, after all.

Disconnecting the glue-gun, Amelia hurried downstairs, sliding down on the banister of the enormous staircase instead of using the stairs. She jumped to her feet once she reached the end, "For heavens sake, Darcy, what is it now? Everything's been ready since yesterday~" She threw her hands up in the air, annoyed.

Still, she couldn't help but feel bad for the poor Butler. Uncle Stern was always well composed, the maids and workers couldn't say much, and Amelia was not much of a comfort, so poor Darcy did have a lot to worry about. He's a still a worrywart, though. Needlessly causing a commotion that guy... She made her way through the hallway, checking to see if everyone was doing their job. Everything looked prepared to her anyway. She stopped and peeked through the open door of the study.

Yes, of course, Uncle Stern is calmly enjoying himself. She thought, rolling her eyes in amusement. Some things just never changed. "Hey, Darcy, everything seems ready. You should just relax--" The doorbell rang and Amelia sprang over to the main door before anyone else could. She wanted to see first hand what sort of people her uncle had managed to find.

Glancing over her shoulder to make sure Darcy had calmed down and the maids were ready, Amelia opened the door for the pretty looking woman who let off an air of intelligence.

"Ah...Welcome. Please, do come inside," Amelia stepped aside and allowed the woman to enter. Crossing her fingers behind her back, she hoped that Darcy had regained her composure.

I wonder...what sort of occupation this woman has?

As the door opened, Beallara opened her mouth, expecting to greet someone who looked... well... more like a professor, for one thing. This girl could not be who she was here to meet. A maid, perhaps?

Blinking and smiling, Beallara regained her composure. "I was asked to come to this place, would you be able to lead me to the master of this household?" Beallara reached up to once again tuck her hair behind her ear, a nervous habit she had been meaning to break.

"If you need to announce me, or have a list of people expected, the name is Beallara Calatheas."
[color="#Gray"]Amelia McCallister ♪Amy[/color]

Beallara Calatheas...What a mouthful~ Amelia rolled her eyes. She saw the incredulous look the woman gave her upon opening the door and decided she might as well enjoy herself. Dropping a polite curtsy, she moved towards the maids, smirking, "Please guide Miss Calatheas to the study. Professor Stern awaits her arrival." she told one who looked like she had nothing to do at the moment. It made Amelia want to burst into laughter at her own little act, but she held her composure for the sake of the situation.

She hoped her uncle knew what he was doing, nonetheless. The woman was pretty and looked undeniably intelligent, but Amelia was doubtful of her creativity. She didn't seem like a profound extrovert, especially in her placid ways of introduction. Still, as she watched the maid lead the woman away, Amelia rolled her eyes again in the monotonous boredom of her self-appointed door-duty.

If she wasn't so uncertain of her uncle's temperament, Amelia wouldn't have hesitated to cause some bubbling mischief. For now, though, she decided, observing her companions-to-be might be the best approach considering her delicate circumstances.

Beallara Calatheas was a tough name, though. That's for sure~ Amelia thought, grinning.

"Wh... you.. wh.. I.. you...!"

Darcy stood in amazement by the bannister, looking at it then at Amelia, then at the bannister then at Amelia.

"Insolent girl!" He took out a duster and re-polished the bannister while Amelia greeted the guest. When he had finished going up and down the stairs, still holding his tray of drinks, he saw the guest being admitted to the house and directed to one of the maids.

"No, no, no!" The butler rushed back down the stairs and flung the used-duster into the maid's face before she could talk. He then shoved her aside and smiled at Beallara.

"Good morning, Miss. It's a pleasure and an honour to be pleasuring - I mean, honouring your acquaintance, for pleasure, I mean... HELLO!" He lifted up his tray of drinks. "Might I offer you a glass of Don Lyons, from the Professor's cellar? 1844 - a good year, apart from the revolutions. Haw haw haw haw!" His laughter echoed around the hall, followed by perplexing silence.

"Coat..." he whispered, glaring past the guest to Amelia.

Amelia looked back at him.

Darcy said it again through the corner of his mouth. "Coat!"

Amelia stared at him.

"TAKE HER COAT!" he shouted through clenched teeth.

He smiled again at Beallara and lifted the tray with a flash of his eyebrows.
Beallara couldn't help the upward twitch of her lips upon being greeted by the man. He seemed, if tense, amusing. He wasn't one of those stuffy professors who would demand a thesis paper for a morning conversation. She found herself surprisingly comfortable here, though the thought made her want to shake her head at herself like her daideo once used to do when hse was being a foolish child.

Beallara's amusement could not be concealed when it leaked into her voice, a soft brogue tainting her, "It's a pleasure to meet you too, Mister Darcy," shrugging off her coat to give it to Amelia simultaneously, trying not to wince at the slip of her accent. Composing herself, she smiled fully, "My name is Beallara Calatheas, but I go by Lara."
[color="#Gray"]Amelia McCallister ♪Amy[/color]

"Of course," Amelia drawled as she took Lara's coat and gingerly turned it over on her arm, "How could I possibly be so daft?" She glanced at Darcy menacingly as she went to hang the coat in the proper closet. She took care in minding the woman's jacket just because it was she a guest of her uncle's. She looked over at Darcy panicking and confusing the lady with his stammering of sentences.

Something about the woman's demeanor bothered her, though. She closed the closet door and made her way over to the two. "I shall announce you arrival to the professor, Miss Calatheas," Amelia smiled thinly, skipping over to the study room before Darcy could scold her for her mischievous behavior.

"Uncle Stern, Miss Calatheas has arrived. And I bid you now, Darcy is making a complete fool out of himself. Say a word to calm him, won't you Uncle?" Amelia hung in the doorway of the study, leaning forward, practically dangling from the door, her hair spilling over her shoulder. She was feeling so eager that it was making her restless.

A pristine olive drab jeep pulled up along the crackling gravel driveway of the Blexford Manor, the flags on the car and the uniforms of the three soldiers proudly displayed allegiance to the Soviet Union, and as the jeep came to a stop, the two soldiers in the front seats leaped from the vehicle to grab the bags of the third soldier, his shoulderboards and collar tabs denoting his rank and branch of service; Colonel of the NKVD.

Mishenka followed the two soldiers, all three bearing Tula Tokerev 7.62 pistols in leather holsters, though the Soldiers also had shortened Mosin Nagant dragoon carbines slung over their shoulders.
As the two soldiers reached the door, they set Mishenka's suitcases down and turned to face the Colonel
"Do Svidanya Comrade Colonel" one soldiers said as they both saluted
"Do Svidanya Comrades" Mishenka replied, smiling heartily and returning the salute before picking up his suitcases and entering the mansion.

the two soldiers quickly returned to their still idling jeep and drove back down the driveway, their destination the Soviet Embassy.
As the jeep made its way down the road, another car passed it by, a taxi. The passenger in the backseat regarded the vehicle as it passed with some curiosity, taking quick mental notes of its occupants and markings.

"We should be there shortly, miss," said the driver, a young, freckled man, as he peered at her reflection in the mirror. Aware of his eyes on her, Astrid nodded, though she did not take her eyes from the scenery passing by her window. Her eyes quickly memorizing the terrain, while her mind mulled over the presence of the jeep.

It was clearly the Soviet Union, and the only place it could be coming from was Blexford manor. That meant whomever else was running this little errand with her was important. Which meant whatever they were after was incredibly valuable.

Astrid smiled.

She hoped the good Professor Stern would stay true to his word to keep the details of her identity and work between the two of them. It was very likely that she might have stolen from any of her new coworkers in the past, and that knowledge on their part could prove counterproductive.

When they reached the gate, Astrid asked the driver to let her out there, that she would walk the rest of the way to the front door. He looked at her like she was crazy, and hoped she wouldn't want help with her suitcase. To his luck, she did not. After paying him, she shouldered her leather messenger bag, took her suitcase from the seat next to her and slid silently out of the taxi.

"You're sure you don't want me to take you-" The driver looked up after counting his fare, but she was already gone.

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Gravel crunched under her boots as Astrid strolled toward the manor, taking careful mental notes of the layout of the grounds. It was a habit that had saved her life many times in the past.

When she reached the front door, rather than slipping in unnoticed, as was in her nature, she merely knocked politely.
"Ah!" said Darcy, rushing to the door as the Colonel entered. The butler bowed a little, then almost courtseyed, then almost dropped his drinks tray as he considered saluting. "Colonel Tishenka Molenka?"

The Colonel held the butler in his steely gaze.

"Er... Milenka Toshenka?"

The Colonel continued staring.

"Ahem... Mi...shenka.... To...lenka?"

"Yes," the Colonel grunted at last, stepping into the lobby and removing his dress-jacket. The soldier's eyes were active, scanning the place with humourless zeal.

Did all mercenaries have such complicated names? Darcy thought to himself. Then he half-bowed again and raised his drinks tray. "Welcome to our country, Colonel. Can I offer you a glass of Don Lyons, 1844 - it's from the cellar - a very good ye..."

By way of answer, Colonel Tolenka tapped his hipflask of vodka and moved past the butler towards the study.

"Oh..." said Darcy, starting to follow the Russian then suddenly spying someone through the door. The butler hurried to the doorway and shouted at Astrid, who was sauntering near the water fountain. "I say! You boy! Get off the lawn! There'll be no trespassing here! Off with you!!"

Meanwhile, in the study, Professor Stern put out his cigar and closed the book he was reading. Rising from his armchair, he smiled at his neice and clapped his hands together.

"Ah, excellent work, Amelia. Good drills, good drills! And never mind old Darcy - the chap's just in high spirits, what! Ah!"

He spread his arms in welcome as Beallara Calatheas was shown into the room. "Doctor Calatheas, is it? Welcome to the old humble abode - I trust the journey wasn't too rotten?" He shook the biologist's hand, not really expecting any answers. "I read your paper on Desmids and Iotons the other week. Marvellous stuff, old girl. Professor Watson speaks highly of you, what! Glad you could make it."

He showed her into the room, offering one of the comfortable armchairs by the fireplace. Beallara obliged politely, but she couldn't help noticing the ornate-looking iron box sitting on the table by the Professor's chair.
Lara blushed softly, her smile becoming impossible to overlook on her face. The professor seemed a kindly man, she thought, though she still felt a little tense at the new surroundings. The mention of one of her favored papers brought a pleased twinkle to her eyes. However, before Lara could begin to question him on his reading and understanding, he had motioned her to an armchair. Slightly deflated, she sat, not taking her gaze from the beautiful box.

It was intricately designed and Lara was nearly praying she would get a chance to better examine it. The crackling fire eased her tension slightly and she willingly sunk back into the fluffy cushions of the chair, grateful for them after her long trip. Lara suddenly felt weary, her eyes heavier than they should be. The scent of the room was sweet wood burning, the warmth and scent lulling her against her will into a facade of security.

Oh dammit.
[color="#Gray"]Amelia McCallister ♪Amy[/color]

"If you say so Uncle," Amelia mumbled as he introduced himself to Lara and spoke about her. Doctor? Amelia glanced at the woman, her eyes narrowed. She looked nothing like a disciple of medicine to her. Shrugging, Amelia turned to get the door. Who cares. As long as she doesn't belittle me the way Darcy does, I could care less. She started to skip towards the door, coming across Darcy fretting over a Colonel. Amelia passed them, and then, curiously, leaned back to take a good look at the Colonel's face. Leaning backwards, she looked a little silly as she grinned at him.

"Welcome, Welcome~" she giggled, thinking of how strange it would be to team up with a Colonel in a maze. She skipped off to the door before he could react to her strange antics. At the door, beside Darcy, she came face to face with the newcomer. She glared at Darcy, gasping and covering her mouth in pretending horror, "Oh Darcy, you're too cruel!"

"Welcome~ Uncle Stern is waiting for you this way~" she twirled around on her heel, excited. This person looked far more friendly than the other two. She couldn't wait to meet them all.

. . . Or she would have knocked politely, had it not opened at that moment, and a simpering butler mistook her for a boy.

Astrid considered the ramifications of slapping him. Certainly she did not dress in the current women's fashions, and she was carrying her own luggage, which apparently wasn't 'ladylike' in England. . . But her appearance was gamine! Certainly not masculine! Astrid's feminine sensibilities bristled slightly, but she kept her composure.

"Comment?" Astrid tilted her head slightly, as if confused, "quelle mouche t'a piqué?" Her accent was slow and rolling, most likely Provencial. She was looking at Darcy as if he were a simpleton. "This is Blexford Manor, is it not?" She did not give the man much time to reply. "Did this Professor Stern change his mind after inviting me?" Though she showed no outward signs of irritation or anger, it was clear that Darcy was in for it.

Luckily, for both of them, another figure appeared in the doorway, a young girl, the professor's niece, apparently. She seemed to totally ignore the presence of the butler, and warmly welcomed her inside.

"Well," Astrid said happily, her face brightening somewhat as she brushed past Darcy, suitcase still in hand. "I am relieved to see that at least English girls have manners." As soon as she was inside, Astrid quickly set to work memorizing everything she saw, though she did not outwardly appear to be looking around too much.
Mishenka smiled warmly at Amelia, doing his best not to laugh at Darcy's utterances
are all capitalist slaves so absurdly spoken? he wondered to himself as he followed the girl to the study, a hearty, warm smile creasing his face as hedid so
"Is he always so.....queer?" Mishenka asked on the verge of laughter, still as he entered the study behind amelia he immediately set his suitcase on a desk and strode over to the professor
"Professor Stern, it is a pleasure to see you again, i hope your time since Vladivostok was pleasant" he said, speaking of the time Stern gave a lecture to several soviet 'academics' just a few years previously, Mishenka, then a Luitenant, had been Stern's "protective aide".
Darcy hovered behind Amy and Astrid as they crossed the hall, trying to cut in, trying to offer drinks. But the two girls seemed to have plenty to talk about and never gave him a chance.

Finally, the butler ran around in front of them and blocked the study doorway, placing his drinks tray down on a side-table with a clatter.

"Right! Now look here!" He pointed his finger in Amy's face. "It is MY job to introduce the guests! You just take the coats!" He glanced at Astrid. "And hats... take the hats too..."

Amy stared at him and Darcy cleared his throat, puffing up his chest. "I'm sorry, Miss McCallister, but I must insist on putting my foot down, so to speak... as it were. You see there are rules, and rules must be followed in the Professor's house." He moved towards the front window, gazing out. "Why, when I was just a young stable-boy at the Hindley Estate, we used to get regular thrashings, and - by George - that sorted the wheat from the chaff. The master liked to start the day with a good caning. Any my behind, let me tell you, was sorer than a..."

Amy and Astrid slipped into the study behind him while he talked.


In the study, Professor Stern gave Mishenka a warm handshake. "Ah, Colonel - jolly good! Welcome to the humble abode, old fellow. Good to have the Ruskies onboard, what! Now, might I introduce Doctor Calatheas, our filly of the biologist persuasion."

He showed the Russian over to the armchairs, where Beallara was sitting. "And before you ask, old boy, I'll explain shortly why I need a biologist onboard." He gave the Russian a playful wink and slapped him on the shoulder.

Leaving the two, Professor Stern turned to see Amy bringing in Astrid. He smiled and crossed the room towards them. "Ah mon cher, bienvenue à notre pays merveilleux. C'est un honneur pour rencontrer un entrepreneur d'une telle grande estime!"

He took Astrid's hand and bowed, kissing it like a gentleman, then ushering her into the room. "Ayez sans doute que j'ai le besoin exprès de vos services sur notre expédition. Svp, soyez assis, et j'expliquerai tous."

He showed her to the armchairs then whispered to his niece. "Amy, dear, could you fetch my maps? Eastern Europe, Egypt and Persia - you know the ones."
[color="#Gray"]Amelia McCallister ♪Amy[/color]

Amelia was delighted with her uncle's guests, especially with her newfound friendship in Astrid. The woman's sense of style was uncanny, but it was just the thing that Amy loved to hear about. She turned to see the others taking their places in the room around Uncle Stern. Even the scary-looking general had a nice side, Amelia noted, with a lopsided grin. As her uncle requested his maps, she nodded cheerfully.

"Of course. I'll only be a minute," Dramatically, and only because she was in a such a good mood, Amelia flourished a quick curtsy and skipped out of the study towards the library. She knew precisely which maps he was talking about as he'd shown them to her earlier. She snuck a quick glance at Darcy's befuddled face before skittering away to the library. After she'd obtained the maps, she hurried back towards the study.

Mhm...Is this everyone, I wonder ? Uncle Stern sure did pick a strange variety of people.