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  1. A little bay East of Jiangkai, El Oleonda, April 624 The little sailboat was dangling slowly, cradled by the gentle waves. That day, the sea was as flat as a table, with a gentle wind barely moving the boat's flag... the red and white flag of the Kingdom of Carno. From a distance, the Caroline would have seemed perfectly still, as idle as a painted boat on a painted ocean. It would have been a terrible day for navigation, slow and boring. For what Albert and his men were doing, however, the weather was just perfect. Fifteen meters below the surface, Konrad and Hans were surely grateful for that calm weather: they had discovered at their expense that rough waves and violent currents could easily appear in that little bay, as soon as the wind started blowing from the wrong direction. The treacherous nature of that inlet, that made every dive dangerous, was probably the very reason of their succes. Many years before, when a terrible storm destroyed the first Lotii expedition on El Oleonda, a ship had likely sought refuge there, just to find its fate against the reef... and, for Poseidon's sake, the shipwreck seemed the one of a Lotii tresure ship! Albert was euphoric. Their expedition was not the first one, but had been by far the most successful. And, even more importantly, he had beaten Professor Hans Schneider, his old rival. That presumptuous man thought to be clever, looking for the Lotii gold among the old ruins of El Oleonda, but Albert had found it first, in the shallow waters of the Southern Coast. As soon as the Carnite High Command had learnt about the shipwrecks, almost four years before, they organized a few small expeditions along the Southern Coast. With the war raging on, however, most of them had turned into a disaster, or had only found the skeletons of small junks, scraped long time before by natives or survivors. Albert's discovery, was going to change everything, and exactly when the Lotii were staying away! The Lotii ship, however, was not the only interesting discovery Albert's expedition had made. The surfacing rocks that had doomed the Lotii ship, indeed, were not a reef, as the cartographers had thought, nor any other natural formation. Incredibly, they were instead the tops of large buildings, similar to the ones forming the Labyrinth... a whole city had sank into the Ocean, in a disaster of proportion that Albert couldn't even imagine. Roads, building, temples... everything was there, down below the surface, frozen in time. The ancient inhabitants were probably still there too, drowned in their own houses, thought Albert with a shiver. The fish had taken the place of the birds, the corals had replaced the luxurious vegetation of El Oleonda, creating an unreal scene... in spite of the terrible fate of the inhabitants, that place was wonderful. The cargo of the Lotii ship laid there, scattered among the ruins and inside the broken keel. Gold and silver ingots, porcelains and statuettes, weapons and utensils emerged from the sand at the minimum movement of the water, much more than three men cold carry with a little boat. It was time to send a messenger pidgeon to Seawatch, to communicate their success and direct a proper expedition to the shipwreck. Writing precise coordinates was out of question: pidgeons were rarely intercepted, but strapping such a precious information to a bird was far too dangerous. Albert didn't want to attract a horde of Lotii warriors to his shipwreck, especially in the moment of his maximum triumph... better to define a rendez-vous point halfway between there and Seawatch. What about the Emperor's Palace, one of the largest ruins in the Labyrinth? It was in a convenient location and, given the discovery of the sunken city, it seemed particularly fitting. Having decided the course of action, Albert brought his attention back to a little object that was puzzling him: a small cilinder, formed by a series of golden discs and completely covered by symbols that Albert couldn't understand... the sun, a large cat, a crocodile, dots and lines... Even if they were still encrusted by sand and salt, it was clear that the discs could rotate, forming a complex mechanism. Did it come from the Lotii ship or from the ruins? And in that case, how advanced had been the inhabitants of El Oleonda, capable of building that amazing trinket? Even more importantly, what was that object? A puzzle box? A clockwork mechanism of some sort? Or maybe... a cipher? -------------------------- Overall view: