Episode 102

The orange evening glow lights up Bach’s tan face, and the faint sounds of slumber crest above the background din of the humvee upon the rough road. A devious grin growing on her face, Sotalia leans out into the aisle from the far back seat opposite of Bach. Confirming his soft snores, she reaches out with both hands, and lifts up a few locks of his longer brown hair. Quickly she weaves the hair into a loose, short braid. Dretphi snaps back to attention from watching the road, notices the Sotalia’s hands, and narrows a stern glare. Glancing her golden eyes to the steely gray pair focusing upon her, Sotalia slinks back with a mischievous smirk and snorts. “Oh, like you haven’t wanted to yourself. It’s getting long. Need to do something with it.”

Wrestling a few thoughts of her own, Dretphi maintains her firm stance and crosses her arms resolutely. With a cautious wide turn from Cideeda, the humvee rolls slowly up to the gravel road leading to a single concrete vehicle shelter. Mavian points out from the front passenger seat a small covered dome with a large metal access door. “There’s shelter for the night. It’s not as nice as some surge shelters, but it’s still tough enough.”

Cideeda darts her emerald eyes around the vicinity, and navigates the vehicle underneath the middle of concrete archway. “Good enough. That’s enough driving these roads for me today.”

With a nod, Mavian opens up his door, inspects the ground nearby, and hops out. “Yeah, there’s not much else past this point when it comes to stopping. It’s best we save the troublesome stuff for tomorrow.”

As the front passenger door closes, Bach flutters his blue eyes, gradually regains consciousness, and glances around. Noticing Aristespha pushing her door open, Bach works the handle of his. Stepping out, he slides his seat forward out of well rehearsed habit, and clears the way for Dretphi. After she pulls herself out, he closes the door, stretches his arms out, and rubs the sleep out of his eyes. Combing his hands through his longer brown hair, he halts when he feels the loose, short braid at the end of a few locks of hair. Studying the woven hair, he blinks blankly, puzzles a moment, and focuses his attention at Dretphi’s platinum blonde braids. Gathering his confusion together in his mind, he glances between the seating in the humvee, feels his hair, and stares bewildered at Dretphi.

Sebastian’s ethereal form drifts above the assembling team, and lowers down to the ground. He slowly pans his gaze around the area, tugs at the corner of his mouth, and addresses the team. “Probably need to give the place a once over. Just to be on the safe side.”

Mavian nods in agreement, steps off to the side, and narrows his stare the northern horizon. “That’d be a good idea. We all try to keep the shelters functional. But, they do get worn down over time.”

Aristespha lifts a curious brow, shifts her weight to another foot, and inquires. “What’s your predictions for tomorrow? Do you anticipate any difficulties?”

Surveying the skies and focusing his faintly glowing, green eyes into the distance, Mavian crosses his arms, tilts his head of wild, brown hair, and smirks with hints of confidence. “I think we got a good chance to get through fast. I haven’t seen any bad signs so far, and there have been a few good indicators along the way.”

He turns around towards the team, and ponders out loud. “It’ll take some proper timing. But, there’s a good chance the usual road anomalies will line up just right and we can power through them. We might have to wait for a later morning or noon approach, but it’ll be far safer and probably faster. So, please be patient.”

Sotalia rests her hands on her hips, grumbles to herself, and sighs. “I really hate to give him any more of a chance to get away from us.”

Glancing over, Bach smirks with a reassuring tone and shrugs his shoulders. “Even if he’s leaving, he’ll probably run into the same problems we are.”

He shifts his gaze to Mavian, and pantomimes for some kind of confirmation. Mavian blinks, glances down the road, and shakes his head. “Oh... Yeah. Depending on the anomalies and how they’re moving, it can be practically just be a one way road. And, this passage is one of the major bottlenecks, so any route large enough for his truck has to go through here.”

Sebastian nods, surveys the roadway, and hums to himself. “Okay, that good to know. We need to set up a watch then. Keep a close eye on the road.”

He smiles to the team, hovers upwards, and motions his arms out to the vicinity. “But, first, let’s secure the site.”

Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sotalia, Sebastian, and Mavian disperse into the surrounding gravel lot, and sweep the area before carefully inspecting the inside of the shelter.

Isaac hoists up a cardboard box into the back seat of the blue all terrain vehicle, winces briefly, and rubs his lower back. Stretching into a backward lean, he grimaces with a pained sigh, and narrows his gaze to the rising sun. After few rocks side to side, he cracks his neck, brushes the stray white, wispy hairs out of his face, and closes the vehicle door. Max walks up slowly, pauses near Isaac, and studies the vehicle. “All loaded up?”

With a smirk, Isaac nods with an exhale. “As far as I know. Notes loaded up. Supplies secured. And, everything on the vehicle checks out.”

Twisting his mouth, Max hums to himself and glances around the area. After a few seconds, he levels a stare at Isaac and frowns faintly. “This is probably pointless, but understand... I still have to try. Isaac, I urge you to reconsider chasing after this aether access point. There is so much we don’t know and I’d hate for you to run off chasing something that very well may be a myth or just not exist anymore. Spend some time here. Let’s study this more and see if we can come up with anything more definite.”

He quirks his brow, and smiles with a pleading tone. “We may yet find out more information about it. Maybe figure out exactly what we’re dealing with. And, I’d really hate for you to run into yet another fucking dead end.”

Isaac blinks his gray eyes, cracks a humored smirk, and shakes his head. “I truly appreciate the offer and the words. But... You know this is something I have to do. Everything I’ve done so far seems to be leading up to this. I HAVE to know if this thing exists and what it can do. Not just for me. But... For everyone else. THIS is just too important to stand by and wait.”

Easing out a long, disappointed sigh, Max grits his teeth briefly, and frowns. “I figured that’s the answer I would get from you. I understand where you are coming from, and I know I can’t convince you otherwise. Well, thanks for letting me say my peace before you ran off to wander yet again.”

With a faint smirk, he rolls his eyes and groans out with a light chuckle. “But... For fucks sake, before you do anything too world changing... Just take a few minutes to really think about it. You never quite know what insight you might get at the last second.”

He holds his hand out and smiles. Isaac glances down, and shakes Max’s hand with the trace of a grin. “Well, I’ll do that. If it’s that significant, that will probably all I will be doing for quite some time. So, I can certainly promise you that much.”

Moments of silence past between the two men. Isaac draws in a long deep breath, surveys the surrounding horizon around the ruins, and lifts a curious brow towards Max. “So, I have to ask. Is there’s another way out of this area to the main road? Mavian showed me one way to get here, and I know I can use that.”

Max blinks in thought a moment, glances towards a number of landmarks, and wanders a finger point towards a rough path. “Well, all the paths lead to the main road eventually. This one here runs parallel to that route you probably took here, and merges before that one bottleneck between the shifting anomalies.”

Isaac crosses his arms, tilts his head to the side, and inquires. “Anything special about that route?”

Narrowing his stare down the winding path, Max debates the options and contorts his face. “Well, it takes a bit longer. Winds around a lot more. But, it is very secluded and not used that much from my experience.”

Nodding his head, Isaac glances over to Max. “That sounds like a good option given all these weird scavengers around lately. I wouldn’t want them to spot me and start trying trace back to figure out where I came from. Certainly wouldn’t want to lead anything bad back to you.”

With an agreeable grimace, Max groans out his irritation, and sighs out an appreciative tone. “That would be nice. Doubt there’s anything here they’d want, but scavengers are always risky to run into. I know a few that’d no sooner leave you with nothing but your underwear. A couple assholes wouldn’t even be that nice.”

He motions back to the path, and smiles. “But, yes, I’ve used that route personally a number of times with the hover truck. It’s a good way to lose anything tailing you. Just pull off when you hit a rocky stretch. Unless they’re paying close attention to the road for your tracks, they’ll probably drive right past you and not realize it.”

A sly smirk graces his face, and he winks to Isaac. “I’ve done that trick a few times. Always confuses the hell out of them, and they spend all day looking for nothing.”

Isaac shakes head with a chuckle, walks around the blue all terrain vehicle, and opens the driver’s side door. “Well... Thank you, Max. I really do appreciate all the information and assistance. And know, I will keep your advice in mind should I be on the verge of something significant.”

Max nods, steps back from the vehicle, and waves to Isaac. The engine fires up, the transmission shifts, and the tires roll forward. Carefully traversing the rough ground of the ruins, Isaac grants a final goodbye to Max. The early morning light shines out, and the vehicle rolls down into a shadowy path, obscured the topology and brush.

Mavian leans forward from the back of the front passenger seat, narrows his faintly glowing, green stare, and searches the horizon. After moments surveying the surrounding landscape in the late afternoon light, he points his finger over the front dash of the humvee. “There. That collection of ruins. That’s where I took Isaac.”

Cideeda spots the location, flicks a switch on the control console, and cautiously navigates the vehicle down into grass covered valley between two small hills. “Okay. Cutting off the powerplant and switching to the capacitors. I’ll try to keep it quiet on the approach.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form nods in aisle behind the front two seats, and he gestures towards the terrain ahead. “Good plan. Try to keep a low profile for as long as you can. Creep in slow.”

He glances over to rest of the team in the back seats with a quiet tone. “Okay. Get ready. Everyone keep an eye on the ruins and watch for anything going on. Once we get close, we’ll try to move in fast and keep out of the open.”

Bach inspects his plasma pistol at his side, and secures his helmet. Aristespha checks the sword, nods to Bach, and secures her pack. Dretphi readies her sub machine gun, stretches her arms and shoulders, and lowers down her face visor. Sotalia curls a sneer, flexes her fingers, and stares eagerly at the ancient structure. The humvee follows the dips between hills, travels through the valleys between lower rises, and hides behind tall grasses on the approach. The team remains silent and watchful.

As the vehicle closes in on the ruins surrounding the main building, Mavian darts his gaze around the area. Squinting to a number of obscuring spots in the area, he furrows his brow and directs his voice back. “I’m not seeing his truck. There’s only so many places he could have put it, but I’m not finding it.”

Sotalia blinks her golden eyes, focuses an emerging glare at Mavian, and growls out. “What do you mean? Are you saying he somehow got by us?!”

Mavian grits his teeth, rolls his faintly glowing, green eyes, and groans. “I don’t know... He may have gone out for a bit. Or, left to another structure around here. It’s a big, blue all terrain truck. It’s exactly a hard one to miss. And, there’s only a few places you can easily hide it.”

Narrowing his gaze out the front windshield, he scans the major landmarks in the area and slowly shakes his head. “No signs of illusion magic. No zone anomalies. He may have left, or found some other spot to hide his ride that I don’t know of.”

Sotalia grimaces harshly, pops her knuckles in frustration, and huffs. “Well, he may found some route you didn’t know about, and ran off.”

Sebastian snaps his stern stare at Sotalia. “Calm down. We don’t know anything yet. Even if he did run off, he couldn’t have gotten far. And... We need to see if Malkav is still here and find out what he knows.”

Fighting down her surges of emotions, Sotalia crosses her arms, eases out a calming breath, and nods quietly. The humvee slows to a stop around the age worn remains of a stone wall. With a nod from Sebastian, the doors of the vehicle open slowly. Cideeda slips out of her seat, sinks low onto the ground, and slinks around to the corner of the ancient barrier. Bach and Aristespha drop low, check the area, and gently pull seat slider levers. After easing their seats forward, both Dretphi and Sotalia step out of the humvee. Sebastian hovers low, and motions the team to regroup. Mavian sneaks up near Cideeda. After her emerald green eyes dart around to key locations and her furry ears flick through the soundscape, Cideeda tilts her head towards the open area near the entrance. Narrowing his stare, Mavian carefully scans the vicinity, and shakes his head.

Cideeda signals Sebastian. With a nod, Sebastian directs the team forward, and zips his ghostly form ahead towards the door. Swiftly the team navigates the surrounding chunks of old structures and debris, and gather around the entry archway. Sebastian darts inside and reappears a moment later. “Locked metal door.”

Peeking her head through the archway, Cideeda focuses her gaze, grits her sharp teeth, and grumbles quietly. “I can pick the lock, but it’d take a minute or two.”

She points a claw tip to Bach, and directs him ahead. “Bach, can you cut it?”

Bach nods, and positions himself towards the front of the formation. The group quietly gathers around the security gate. Bach flows prismatic energies through the metal of the lock, and Cideeda catches the remnant chunks when they fall. Passing through the gate, the team progress through the old hallways weapons and magics at the ready. Approaching a large lit room at the end of the corridor run, the team slows to stop. Sebastian points to himself and motions to the room. He departs the team, hovers close to the archway into the room, and phases partially into the nearby wall. Pushing through the ancient stonework, Sebastian’s face barely clears the other side of the wall. Quickly surveying the room, he notices a thin, older man with white hair slumbering in a makeshift recliner. After a few moments, Sebastian fully materializes into the room, drifts closer to the man, and watches expectantly.

With a glint of an observant blue eye, Max slowly tightens his grip upon something hidden between the recliner and couch. His gaze refocuses upon Sebastian, and a hint of recognition twitches his cheek. Sebastian moves in closer, angling his gaze, and determining any threats. Peering through the archway from the hallway, Cideeda and Dretphi ready themselves.

A high-pitch whine fills the air in the room. Max’s eyes open to an irritated glare upon Sebastian, and his arm tenses at the ready. “WHO and WHAT the HELL are you?”

Sebastian's ethereal form raises his arms up, and he chuckles uneasily. “Hey, just a guy looking for someone. Are you Dr. Malkav?”

Max blinks a moment, tilts his head back, and twists his mouth. “Who wants to know?”

With a smirk, Sebastian bows and chuckles lightly. “Sebastian Warwick.”

After he analyzes Sebastian’s transparent nature, Max turns his attention to the doorway and tenses up. “Okay then... Mind letting me know who else is here?”

Sebastian smiles awkwardly and waves down any aggression. “My team. If you’ll keep the weapon down, we’ll do the same. Then, we can have nice conversation and explain everything.”

Max nods silently, and concentrates his full focus to the door. Sebastian signals the team. Cautiously the team walks into the room. Max shifts his stare Cideeda, pauses warily at Dretphi, and scrutinizes Aristespha with hints of recognition. He cocks his head as he gazes at Sotalia. When his attention finds Bach’s face through his helmet visor, he widens his blue eyes. In a surge of recognition, he eases the tension away from the hidden weapon, slowly lifts his hand away, and points at Bach. “I know who YOU are... We definitely need to talk.”

Sotalia tightens her grip around crossed arms, fidgets annoyed against the archway dividing the large room and hallway, and growls out. “I can’t believe you just let him GO! After you just gave up all the information to him!”

Max sighs out long, furrows his unamused brow towards Sotalia, and grimaces. “Yes, as if I’m anywhere near capable of handling the latest Dark Lord at my doorstep. I’m certain my modest magical abilities, years of more age than not, and marginal physical prowess would have certainly served me well to quell the likes of him.”

Rolling her golden eyes, Sotalia grits her teeth, glances over her shoulder down the hallway, and directs her voice to the team. “We should go after him NOW. We’ve already wasted enough time.”

Mavian frowns uneasily and shakes his head of wild brown hair. “Yeah, um. Not only does he have a day ahead of us, but traveling right now at night is really bad idea when taking a vehicle. It’s hard enough to spot anomalies on a good day.”

With an awkward chuckle, he smiles hopefully and shrugs his shoulders. “But... If he’s taking my advice, he’s probably stopped for the day, too. So, it’s not like he’s going to make any more progress tonight.”

Sebastian’s ghostly form nods, and he sighs with a slow shake of his head. “That’s good. Even if he does have a day on us, he’ll very likely stop back in Precipice. We’ll see about tracking him down then. But, let’s just calm down and have a moment to think about things.”

Dretphi exchanges glances with Sotalia, and both share a silent disappointment. Max tugs at the corner of his mouth, and presents an understanding tone. “I know you don’t like the fact I did share that information. But, you must understand, I was trying to gain his trust and hopefully convince him to change his mind.”

Sotalia rolls her golden eyes, guides a lock of fiery orange, wavy hair over a horn, and huffs. Dretphi crosses her arms, contorts her face with her thoughts, and remains quiet. Aristespha leans back into the chair at the table, turns her gaze towards Max across from her, and nods. “It was a noble effort, but our experiences have lead us to believe he’s far too gone to be dissuaded at this point.”

Max grits his teeth, picks up the mug of tea upon the table, and sips. Contorting his face, he shakes his head and frowns. “I hope you understand, but there wasn’t much I could do in the situation. He literally just showed up out of no where. But, I did do what I could.”

Scratching the back of his head, Bach focuses his blue eyes upon Max from the improvised couch, furrows his brow, and shrugs his shoulders. “I guess. He probably would have figured it out on his own, and then he’d just be mad at you if he thought you were keeping secrets from him. I mean, Isaac is a smart and resourceful guy.”

Aristespha nods in agreement, tilts her head of silvery blue hair back, and ponders out loud. “Yes. Isaac was a Grand Library researcher in this particular field. I’m certain he’d have expectations of another fellow colleague that is his senior.”

Curling her claw tips into the rough fabric of the couch arm, Cideeda wrestles a frown on her face, and gradually nods to an understanding. “You only play so dumb for so long.”

Max stands up from his chair, motions towards a crate in the corner of the room, and smirks slyly. “Exactly. If I didn’t provide some of my findings, he’s certainly expect I was hiding something. But...”

The rest of the team watches carefully as Max walks across the room, lifts the lid of a the container, and pats around the bottom. Finding a hidden metal loop, he lifts up the false bottom of the crate, and grips hold a folio of papers. Retrieving the papers from inside, he steps over the rough table, and drops the packet in front of Aristespha. He cracks a grin and chuckles lightly. “I certainly didn’t give him ALL the information. Just enough.”

Attention shifts to the pile of documents. Aristespha curiously opens up the folio, and inspects the first few papers inside. “What are these exactly?”

Max walks over to his makeshift recliner, settles down in it, and laughs with a devious tint. “Oh, just the key bits of information to narrow down the search area for where the possible thirteenth access point to the Abstract Prism exists.”

A shocked silence fills the room. A sly smirk graces Sotalia’s face, and she lifts an intrigued brow towards Max. “So... How much does this on the table narrow things down?”

Stretching out his back in the chair, Max snorts and chuckles. “He’s probably looking at just over a two hundred and fifty kilometer diameter range. The information I recently found out from my personal research shrinks that to a rough hundred kilometer diameter circle.”

He grins wide and lifts a smug eyebrow. “He might be busy hunting a bunch of dead ends in some remote places for a while. I was thinking it’d give me some time to head out and get in contact with the authorities before he even got a chance to find anything.”

Dretphi blinks her steely gray eyes, tilts her head, and parts the hint of a smile. Sotalia rests her long, black nailed hands on her hips, shifts her weight, and laughs. “Well. While I’d rather catch him, it is amusing to think of him wandering the woods aimlessly and finding nothing.”

Bach’s blue eyes widen, and he turns his attention towards the packet of documents on the table. “What if we got to it before him?”

Perking her furry ears, Cideeda taps a claw tip to her chin, and searches her mind with her emerald green eyes. “Yeah. We could lay a really good trap for him. Probably has no clue we know anything right now, and he’ll be too focused. Even if we lose him here, we know what he's going for now.”

With a distant stare towards the stone floor, Bach mumbles under his breath with a spark of determination. “...and shut it down for good...”

Cideeda’s ear flicks back from Bach, and she watches at his resolute mood. Max nods in agreement, and twists his mouth. “Definitely a good idea to intercept him. As much as I believe Isaac feels his intentions are good, his obsession has blinded him to the reality of it all. Now, it may be a moot point even you find this thirteenth access point. I doubt it properly functions anymore.”

He narrows a stern stare to all the gathered team and uneasily frowns. “But gods almighty, if there’s even a remote chance it could do anything more than flash pretty lights, he’s THE LAST person that needs to be fucking with it. That’s power no one should experiment with. This world doesn’t need yet another Cataclysm because someone decided to flick a bunch of random switches.”

Slowly shaking his head, he sighs sadly and winces heavy with regret. “Isaac is too deep into all of this right now. I could feel it after talking to him... Gods... Wish I could have done more for him before this point.”

Quiet moments weigh down the mood of room. Adjusting his posture in the recliner, Max dons a curious expression on his face, casually interlocks his fingers together on his hands, and tilts his head to the side. Searching his gaze around the room, he quirks his brow and addresses everyone with a tone heavy with intrigue. “So, I have to ask... How did you all track Isaac down? Didn’t act like he was being followed.”

Sebastian cocks his head to the side, lifts an eyebrow, and drifts his ethereal form close to Max. “We had a run in with him when we monitored a location he was interested in, near Amaranth. After he escaped when we tried to capture him, we got the help of the PDF and GAA to track him down to Perimeter. Then, we checked a number of sources and tracked him down to Precipice.”

Mavian uncomfortably twists his mouth and squirms slightly with a sigh. “Then, I lead them out here to you. So, sorry about that. I try to not make it a habit... But, Isaac being the Dark Lord Noxian and all made it the exception.”

Max nods understandingly to Mavian. Sebastian blinks as an idea jumps to the front of his mind, and he concentrates his full attention upon Max. “How DID Isaac know where to find you? Mavian told us he had notes and maps he was using to locate this place. Do you know where he got all that from?”

Aristespha’s very long ears twitch, and her violet eyes shift to focus upon Max. Slowly, Max meets Sebastian's gaze, sneers his upper lip, and grumbles loudly. “Oh, yes. I know exactly where he got it from. I know which idiot gave it to him, too.”

Flitting her eyes wide, Aristespha turns the rest of her body in the chair, leans closer, and asks. “Who?”

Max shakes his head, rolls his blue eyes, and growls. “Fucking Dawkins. That old fool decided to give Isaac the location to my store of notes hidden in the basement of the Grand Library Computer Science building.”

Shock and surprise radiate through Sebastian, Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia. Mavian glances around at the reactions between everyone, and shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly. Aristespha attempts to start a sentence between the flurry of thoughts playing upon her ivory face. “I- Um- Ah- Oh my gods... I have to let Nash and Harvos know. It- Um- It explains so much.”

Lifting his brow curiously, Max frowns slightly. “I get the feeling there’s a little more to this story than I even know. Regardless...”

He settles back into the makeshift recliner and rubs his forehead. “As much as I respect Dawkins for what he’s accomplished, I’ve never been a fan of some of his methods and the routes he’d be willing to take to get the job done. Too much of him rubbed off on Isaac. Always digging too deep.”

Bach straightens his posture upon the couch, turns his gaze towards Max, and uneasily questions. “Like, for example, um... Orth Ridge?”

Max’s blue eyes grow wide as his mind processes the name. He draws in a long, deep breath, and grimaces sharply, and swallows harshly. He eases out his breath with a remorseful shake of the head. “Well, I think we do have a lot of notes to compare. But...”

He points towards the archway leading to the entry hall and glances to the team. “First things first. Let’s get you all settled in for the night. You should probably hide your vehicle next to my hover truck. There’s been some scavengers around lately, and you don’t want to leave anything obvious out there for them.”

Cideeda springs up from the couch, stretches out her arms and back, and steps towards the exit hall. “Yeah, I’ll take care of that.”

Walking behind Cideeda, Dretphi holds her sub machine gun at the ready and follows. “I will assist. Should not go alone.”

Max sits up partially, rubs his back, and motions towards the corridor leading down towards a dimly illuminated space. “Since you all will be staying the night, I might as well give you a tour of the place. It’s absolutely fascinating and it’ll be a good break from all this business.”

Aristespha stands up from her chair at the rough table, smiles appreciatively, and gazes towards the massive hall. “Thank you. That sounds nice.”

With a hint of eagerness slipping into pace, Sotalia joins up with Aristespha and smirks. “Well, I guess it’s not everyday you see one of the places that once help build THE SOURCE of today’s magic.”

Furrowing a suspicious brow, Aristespha narrows her violet eye stare at Sotalia and directs a scolding tinge to her tone. “No pocketing the ancient artifacts.”

Sotalia twists her mouth into a playful pout and rolls her golden eyes. “Fine...”

Max rocks himself forward of the recliner, steps over to another crate with a pile books and notes on top, and searches through the stack. “After the tour... and before we discuss too many other topics...”

He retrieves a photograph, pivots to the face Sebastian and Bach, and turns the image towards them. “Sebastian. Bach. If you could satisfy my curiosity about yourselves, I think I might be able to shine light upon some of Isaac’s activities.”

Sebastian and Bach study the picture. Both tilt their heads to side in utter bewilderment, as the two brothers gaze upon a photograph of the team in assembled in a familiar cavern around a massive pit with varied auras surrounding each member.

Sitting around a camp fire, four people in worn, ratty zone running gear converse between each other. A dirty, unkempt man bellows out laughing, chugs down his beer, and pitches the bottle into the surrounding night time darkness. “Fuck me, I still can’t believe you hacked that ancient bot’s leg clean off with that thing!”

With a crooked smile upon his scarred face, a brutish man snorts, proudly shows his machete, and rotates it slow. He gazes hungrily at the reflection upon the shiny blade surface, and plants the tip into the dirt nearby. “Nothing this blade can’t do! Best thing I ever found. Almost a shame that it didn’t help the corpse I pulled it off of.”

Scraping the bottom of a tin can, a conflict weathered woman shakes her head, groans out her frustrations, and points to the brute. “Yeah... But fuck! We won’t be able to go to town after that. Don’t know if shit canning that droid was worth pissing the locals off.”

Rolling his eyes, a man lounging upon a bedroll tilts his head over and sighs. “Well, too late now. Ah, to hell with that town anyway. I know a few camps to the north that are far better.”

Pointing to the man on the mat, the unkempt man nods in agreement, wipes his nose with his ragged sleeve, and coughs. “No shit! Precipice is nothing like it used to be. All these people moving in and bringing law and order. Fuck that! We all came out here to make some real riches!”

The weathered woman snorts, and rolls her eyes. “Yeah, you got that right. I mean they were starting to tax all our finds. For what? Roads? Water? Power? Defenses? Whatever. We never got to enjoy that crap most the time.”

From the shadows a cloaked figure nonchalantly approaches the group surrounding the fire. With each step faint noises of hydraulics and servos mix with the ambiance of the night time wilderness. After planting his heavy boots solidly into the ground, the figure straightens his posture nearby and cracks sinister grin upon his fire illuminated lower face. “Well... Well... Well... What do we have here on this fine night?”

The four people around the fire snap their full attention to the hooded figure and stare suspiciously. Slowly the quartet ready their grips around weapons, and the covered man chuckles darkly. “Oh, don’t worry. I’m just a humble traveler. And I just couldn’t resist your conversation about the local town nearby. Seems you’re not quite the fans of that place, and I just HAD to know more as I’m a bit curious myself.”

The dirty, unkempt man sneers his upper lip, twists the disdain up on his face, and spits off to the side. “Well, maybe we don’t want to talk to some random asshole wandering the zone. It’s pretty dangerous out here... Maybe you should fuck right off before something dangerous happens.”

A crooked grin grows across the scarred face of the brutish man, and he tightens the grip around his shiny blade. “He’s right you know. Really dangerous out here. Never know when something bad might happen to you. It might be a good idea to pay us to keep you safe out here. If you know what I mean.”

The hooded man draws a smug smirk on his face, slowly shakes his partially obscured head, and laughs loudly. “Oh. You see... You’ve made a very dangerous assumption that I’m out here all by my lonesome.”

From the darkness bordering the dim glow of the fire, large cloaked and covered figures step into the light. The glints of gun barrels, sheen of fine blades, and the illumination of charged energy weapons distract from the hint of electronic light upon the faces and bodies. The quartet freeze in place and nervously glance at the looming threats closing in on them. The hooded figure steps forward with heavy impressions into the ground, brushes off a log, and settles into a seat upon it. With an ill-humored grin, the man draws in a long, calming breath, exhales with a chuckle, and crosses his legs with faint sounds of hydraulics and servos. “How about we start all over. I simply want engage in a little trade.”

A sinister smile emerges on the cloaked mans visible face, and he cocks his head to the side. “Information about Precipice for your safety? I think that’s an equitable trade? Don’t you think?”

The quartet quickly asset the developing situation around them, as the details of the augmented persons around them become clearer in the wavering fire light. The dirty, unkempt man puts forth his most agreeable, awkward smile, and nods in pleading agreement. “Of course. Yeah. I mean. As far as I’m concerned, I think you’re the boss now. Yeah, um. So, what do you want to know, boss?”

Boss leans his face forward, taps the finger tips of his hands together, and grins wide in the glow of the campfire. “OH. I LIKE YOU. Someone who can immediately recognize their place and their superiors? You know my friend, if this exchange goes well, I might have an opening for you in my organization.”

In the large room of the ancient ruins, the team with Mavian and Max engage in an ongoing discussion over breakfast meals. Aristespha flips over a number of pages, and spots a paragraph upon a paper. Her violet eyes sort through the information, and her ivory face contorts as her tone wavers mid mental debate. “I don’t know... It’s just... This information certainly limits where we have to search. But... The amount time it’d take to properly survey the area, and we don’t even know exactly what we are looking for. It might be more prudent to chase down Isaac directly, while we can.”

Sebastian’s ethereal visage crosses his arms, and he sighs with a ghostly reverb. “Dear, as much as I want to confront him, I get the feeling we may have lost our ideal window. If we run into him out on the road, we’re liable to run into all kinds of trouble from the zone. And, I don’t think a showdown in Precipice would be all that great. That’d put the town at risk.”

Gritting her teeth, Sotalia tosses back her fiery orange, wavy hair, huffs loudly, and shakes her head. “So let’s get MOVING! If we catch him on the road, that’s outside of town and the same stuff dangerous in the zone is dangerous to him too!”

She exhales out her frustration and pours a long swig of coffee into her mouth, with an unhappy stare towards Sebastian. Cideeda bites into a piece of jerky, eases back into the couch cushion, and groans. “Yes, as if we have had any luck in an open fight with him yet. I’m all for tracking him down. But, we really need to stack all the odds in our favor. I’d say we start looking for this thing.”

Mavian glances between the debate while standing off the side with a mug of coffee. After a moment, he shrugs his shoulders, and comments. “He’s not going to go that fast right now. He doesn’t have a guide and he doesn’t think you guys are tracking him. At least, I never got that impression off of him.”

Dretphi nods in agreement, stirs up a bowl of oatmeal upon the rough coffee table in front of the couch, and narrows her eyes in thought. Drawing in a long breath, she twists her mouth and contemplates out loud. “That is one advantage we have. If we are careful, we could remain behind him. Stay out of his sight. Do not spook him. Figure out his first destination. Summon our allies. Entrap him.”

Staring at his cooling bowl of noodles, Bach’s eyes shift between passing thoughts and he frowns. “Okay, so... Why are we even going after him at this point?”

The group’s attention focuses upon Bach. After glancing around at the confused expressions, Bach shakes his head and groans in a mix of fatigue and frustration. “I mean... Let’s think about this. Noxian- Isaac isn’t leaving the area right now. We actually have a clue at what he’s planning on doing. And, this thirteenth access point to the Abstract Prism is where he believes he can do it.”

Lifting his head up, he draws in a long breath through his nose, straightens his back, and pans his gaze around the room. “Let’s say we find this thing. Maybe it doesn’t work. Great, we know exactly where he’s going to waste his time and we can get everyone we can to surround him. Maybe it’s barely functional? Okay, then we can either disable it, break it, or... whatever...”

He grits his teeth, rakes his fingers through his longer brown, white streaked head of hair, and grumbles loud. “I just don’t feel like he’s the biggest threat right now. This access point existing and possibly working is actually really fucking scary! Something like this shouldn’t be left around for... anyone.”

Max flits his eyes wide, levels an understanding stare towards Bach across the rough table, and nods slowly. “I agree. Truthfully, that’s one of the reasons I remained out here for so long. I couldn’t decide whether to burn it all or just seal it away deeper. I don’t want to destroy knowledge, but this... This I’m almost willing to make an exception for.”

Folding the folio of papers neatly closed, Aristespha sighs with a frown, pats her hand upon the bundle, and shakes her head. “The more I think about it, the more it worries me. I don’t know if anyone else needs to know such a thing could exist. Not even the Grand Library.”

Sebastian blinks blankly, stares in genuine surprise at Aristespha, and eventually arrives to a thoughtful, quiet nod. Bach shakes his head, rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably, and grits his teeth briefly. “Just another thought... Probably not likely... But, maybe there’s enough power left in this supposed thing to satisfy the sword and get Sebastian out. See if the sword can drain it completely of power afterwards, or we can figure out how to shut it down for good.”

He gazes towards Sebastian with a faint hint of hope in his smirk. “It’s ancient site of power. Maybe there’s enough for you still stored in it.”

Sebastian searches his mind, crosses his arms, and cocks his head to the side. “To be honest, bro... At this point, if I can get out of his sword into my body, and Noxian can’t fuck magic for everyone in Nexus... I'm ready to never care about Noxian or this damned sword.”

Contorting her face through conflicting emotions, Sotalia squirms against the archway leading to the inside corridor, grips her coffee mug tightly, and frowns heavy with reluctance. “That would... Work for me.”

She points the cup towards Bach, cracks a smirk, and snorts. “I still think we should not lose track of him. And, I don’t want to lose out a good chance to get him if it happens.”

A smile graces Aristespha face, and she raps her finger tips upon the folio. “Thinking about it... If we are going to try to find this aether access point, I know someone who could assist us. It might take some effort to find where he is exactly.”

Cideeda’s furry ear flicks towards the archway leading towards the exit corridor. Her emerald green eyes grow wide. Darting her eyes to everyone else in the room, she subtly signals towards the dark hallway and slowly removes her laser pistol from the hostler. “That’s sounds good. But, we should CHECK on the humvee first, and go OUTSIDE.”

In the tense moments, everyone maintains the facade of their idle activities while they gradually ready themselves. Cideeda’s ear twitches. She snaps her emerald green eyed gaze through archway, drops low upon the couch, and trains her laser pistol to a dark shape. “DON’T MOVE!”

The figure darts down the hallway loudly. Dretphi charges forward down the corridor with Cideeda scrambling up behind. Sebastian zips down the hallway. Sotalia rushes up to the archway and growls behind. “I thought you put that lock back together Bach!”

Bach runs up next to Sotalia. “I did! I put it back the way it was-”

His blue eyes flit widen, and he points out the ajar metal security door coming into view to Sotalia. “SHUT THE DOOR!”

Her golden eyes finding the target, Sotalia quickly gestures out an incantation, summons up the magic flow, and flings her arms forward. A rush of transparent energy flies out from her arms, arcs over Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and the darkened figure. It splashes upon the door, slamming it shut. The figure scrambles in panic against the handle of the doorway, and vainly jerks against the binding magical energies. In the next few seconds, he lifts his head, blinks to a growing terror, and pivots slowly to witness the last part of Dretphi’s charge into full body shoulder check.

A loud metallic crash echoes through the corridor, punctuated by the pitiful yelp of air forced out of lungs. The figure peels off the metal mesh of the security door, and flops onto the floor in a stupor. Dretphi pins him to the ground and Cideeda’s laser pistol drains the remaining fight out of the thin, cloaked man. Dretphi pulls off the covering garment and reveals a younger man with traces of cybernetics. She locks her glare up the prominent Red Gear symbol tattooed on his bare shoulder, and spits out furious string of curses in grath.

When the rest of the team surrounds and secures, Sebastian hovers over, points to the ruin exit, and silently flies through the security door. Zipping through the remainder of the hallway towards the morning light, Sebastian peeks his head out. His transparent visage pales. Along a distant path, squads of cloaked soldiers upon trucks and quad bikes ride forward, the Red Gear logo occasionally visible upon vehicle and person alike.