Seeing nothing else to explore, Josephine rode the elevator back to the general store. As she passed the counter, something glinted and caught her eye. How serendipitous! she though, pocketing another heart. Almost as if someone left it here for me to find…She walked on through the town, finding a heart on the ledge of a display window near the entrance to Roseville. She wandered the rest of Roseville and the other doors; she was surprised to find more jeweled hearts, hidden in rather obvious spots—half buried in the sandbox in the schoolyard, on top of the counter in the toy shop, on the tea table in the gingerbread house. Surely these weren't here before. I swear these were intentionally placed. Josephine came back through the antechamber. The green liquid was bubbling ferociously in the pipes, glowing brighter than it ever had before.

She roamed the grounds at a brisk pace, searching every obvious hiding spot and finding a charm at each one; one in the bushes by the front gates, two at opposite ends of the porch. Having collected the full set of ten, Josephine hurried back to the elevator and rode impatiently to the lower level, her head pounding in tune with her heart. She arrived at the locked chamber and clamored to place the jeweled hearts into the indentations. As the final stone was fitted into place, the door eased open automatically and a rush of damp, musty air engulfed her.

Inside were several large machine, exact replicas of the notebook sketches. A central chamber full of the same liquid that had been coursing through the pipes in the antechamber stood in the middle of the room, and inside was the form of a man, withered and wrapped in a billowing black cloak. The creature, presumably Charles Dalimar himself, noticed Josephine's entrance and raised a gnarled hand in her direction.

"You!" he half roared, half gasped. "You again!" His voice had an ominous, echoing sound which was not out of place in the large stone room. "You steal my first love and return to my home to mock me? Victor! Come quickly!" Charles raised his arms, suspended in the tank, as if summoning a great mass of energy. "Why is my strength not returning to me? What have you done to my family? Without the warmth of their souls I cannot remain among the living! Victor! Slay this villainess!"

Josephine darted to the back of the area to a large chamber. On its front was a large ring of numbered stones one through seventeen in jumbled order surrounding a circle bearing the words Love Forever Love and a slip of paper with a diagram of the stones in numerical order clockwise. She tried the chamber handle; nothing. The numbers seemed to be able to rotate around the circle, with the three at the apex able to be reversed in order. She quickly got to work, rearranging the numbers in order, constantly checking over her shoulder for signs of Victor. After a while the circle in the center of the complicated lock slid open to reveal what looked far too much like a pulsating heart in a small tank of liquid. With a soft clack the final numbers were arranged.

The smaller tank holding the heart burst with such force as to spew the glowing liquid and shards of glass down Josephine's front. She brought her arms to her face to shield herself, but a few shards wedged themselves in her arms and forehead. She screamed with pain and alarm. The liquid began to drain from the central chamber as Charles shrieked and howled.

"What have you done?" he roared. "All my work is in ruins!"

As the liquid drained from the tanks the entire building gave a mighty lurch. Several pipes burst from tension, spraying their liquid everywhere. A panel of wires caught by the spray began to spark, quickly erupting into flame. Thick fumes choked the air, making it difficult to breathe. The walls began to topple at the exact moment Victor came lurching into the room. Shards of glass littered the floor along with broken chips of metal and segments of torn pipes.

"Curse you, Josephine Miller!" Charles shrieked. The central tank was covered in a spider web of cracks and fragments of glass were dislodging themselves, making the liquid drain out faster. "Hear this: a plague upon you and your dreaded queen!" Victor hobbled to the tank, roughly shoving Josephine out of his way. She smeared blood out of her eyes, stumbling to her feet.

"Victor! Take the device and get to safety! Run far, far away from here!" Charles's words were cut off by a wail of agony. Victor hobbled to the chamber in the back of the room and flung the heavy metal door open with effort, climbing inside. "This is not over yet, Master Detective! I will find you and make you bleed for what you have done, for destroying my family, for taking all that is precious to me!"

"This is not over yet, Detective!" Victor cackled, slamming the door. A large dial on the front read 2008. Victor turned for a moment, fiddling with something Josephine could not see. Suddenly, the numbers began to whiz backwards at a frightening pace until they stopped at 1895. Her body collapsed, choked by fumes and blinded by pain just in time to see the chamber and Victor fade away.

Josephine Miller lay in the grass in front of the blazing inferno that was Ravenhearst Manor. The evening sky and the heavy cloud cover were illuminated a lurid shade of orange as the horrible cacophony of burning wood and shattering glass pervaded the night. Rain lightly fell on her face, cooling her rather battered and scorched body. How did I escape? she wondered to herself. She reluctantly, slowly pushed herself up onto her elbows and up to stand and looked around her. Emergency vehicles were already arriving, surrounding the inferno. Her whole body ached, her head pounding as she felt the gashes in her forehead. Gah! She looked back and forth, scanning the landscape for signs of her savior. As she turned around she caught sight of several forms walking away, two young girls and their mother being led by a familiar figure in a white gown. The woman turned to Josephine and whispered a silent thanks as Emma Ravenhearst led Rose, Gwendolyn, and Charlotte away from the torturous prison they had called home. I have a feeling that this won't be the last I see of the Dalimars, but we're safe for now…we're safe for now.

Brief announcement: next MCF fic will be...drumroll please...FATE'S CARNIVAL! Thoughts/ideas? Comment!

-Ashstar