Sunday, February 13, 2011


The explosion had piled debris from the attic above in a smoking heap on the next set of stairs. They would not be able to climb higher without removing some of it, but the smoke suggested that the materials were going to be hot yet.

"What do you suggest?" Eduardo murmured to the alchemist.

Maggiormente frowned and answered his lion, "We must find something to shift the debris. At the very least, we need to be certain the fire is out completely. To be safe." The two exchanged a look. It wouldn't do to find themselves in the midst of a re-energized conflagration.

"Have you any tools or implements?" Eduardo asked the painters.

Manet shrugged. "Brushes?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Berthe scolded. "Something sizable." She tapped her chin for a moment. "The fire irons!" The woman strode across the room, shoving furniture from her path until she reached the fireplace. Grabbing the poker, Berthe grimaced and let out a sudden exhalation of breath and dropped the object.

"Hot?" the alchemist inquired.

She nodded. "I should have thought first."

"It's not every day you sift through the aftermath of a fire," Eduardo said with unusual kindness. The alchemist lifted an eyebrow at him, but the lion ignored it.

The painter gingerly picked up the poker again, shifting it in her hand, seeking to find a comfortable grip. She brought it over to the alchemist and handed it over. Behind her Manet had grabbed the ash shovel and joined the others at the stair to the attic.

"I had feared the attic gone," Manet said as he prodded at a black chunk of rubbish from the steps.

Maggiormente poked away at the rubble while Eduardo pawed at the wreckage standing on the stair. Were it not for his tail whipping back and forth, it would have been impossible to guess that he remained ready to spring away from danger at a moment's notice. His wings flapped gently back and forth as they always did when he was concentrating intently. The movement did help to dispel some more of the smoke, too.

The four continued digging away a the wreckage for some moments in silence, clearing a path up the stairs and beginning to loosen some of the larger pieces to move them aside.

All of the sudden there was a groaning noise from above them. Maggiormente stopped poking the black debris and looked up with a frown.

"Move," Eduardo barked, his wings suddenly folding tight as he reached forward to bite the trouser leg of his alchemist and wrench him backward. All four turned and leapt from the steps and the groaning turned into a hideous screech. An avalanche of soot-covered lumber and plaster fell with a tremendous sound.

The air filled once more with a thick cloud of smoke and they all began choking as they backed away from the corner of the room that led to the roof. Squeezing together the four pressed their faces out the remaining window, gulping down fresh air by the lungfuls.

"That was close," Manet said at last, his voice half-choked with smoke.

"You were very brave, Monsieur Lion," Berthe said with evident admiration.

Maggiormente threw his arms around the lion's neck. "Grazie, amico mio!"

"It was nothing," Eduardo said with stiff dignity, trying to ignore the alchemist's embrace. "Only my duty."

Maggiormente kissed the lion's head. "I am grateful, nonetheless."

The lion shook him off and flapped his wings a little as if to shake away the display. He looked over his shoulder. "Well I suppose that tells us all we need know about the attic."

The others turned and Berthe gasped. "It's—it's gone!"

Indeed there was only blue sky visible through the hole at the top of the stairs.

"Do you suppose there could be anything left up there?" Manet asked, the sorrow plain in his tone.

"We should at least look," Maggiormente said with a shrug. "Perhaps it is not as bad as it looks."

"Careful," Eduardo said with a little growl in his tone. "Mind that little saying about the frying pan and the fire."

Maggiormente waved away the lion's words. "The worst of it is over. There was no fire in the debris, eh? It was merely unstable. I'm sure we'll be fine. Let's explore."

The lion looked unconvinced, but the two painters were eager to see what remained of their belongings. Carefully the little group negotiated the stairs, stepping over the largest chunks of blackened wood as they crept to the top. Once there they looked around with surprise at the sight before them.

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