Episode 105

Sebastian’s ghostly form hovers in the aisle of the humvee cab. He narrows his blue tinted eyes and ponders out loud. “I think the best thing to do right now is head back to Amaranth Valley, and well... Figure out how the hell to locate this place or thing before Noxian does.”

Idly petting her toy thudkicker while laying on the far back bench seat, Dretphi tilts her head of platinum blonde braids towards Sebastian, searches her mind with her steely gray eyes, and nods. “That seems appropriate. At the moment. Need to check out resources. Investigate options. Hope we are fast.”

Bach scratches the back of his head of longer brown hair, twists his mouth, and puzzles. “Yeah. Even with the smaller search area... That’s, um, a lot of space to check for something might be really well hidden.”

Tapping a claw tip upon the steering wheel, Cideeda flicks her furry ears with her thoughts, slowly wags her long tail upon her lap, and twist her mouth uncertainly. “From what I looked up, most of it is just wilderness. So, we’d be hiking most of it, far from any roads.”

Sotalia grimaces, rests her chin upon the palm of her propped up arm, and aims her frustrated, golden eyed stare out her passenger’s side window. “Gods, and it’s not like the bastard already has a head start on us. Bunch of bullshit...”

She releases a long, annoyed sigh, tosses back her fiery orange, wavy hair, and leans back into her seat. “Oh well, I guess I’ll settle for the next best thing. Deprive him of his prize.”

Crossing her arms, she causally inspects her long, thick black nails on her tan and gray patterned hands, and directs her voice back. “So, any ideas on how we find this whatever?”

Sebastian’s transparent figure floats down to a seat above the floor of the cab, and he gestures through his sentence. “Well, I know a few places we’ve gotten information about are in this region. So, definitely need to see what else we can find about those, and see if anything might be worth checking out.”

Bach blinks a few times, gradually nods, and holds a finger up to make a point. “Yeah... That printout of those locations from the research outpost. There might be a few there.”

Stroking his chin, Sebastian glances over to Bach and smirks in agreement. “Definitely, bro. That’s worth investigating. We might have to see if either Captain Hayes or Captain Hackle know anything going on in the search area.”

Aristespha tilts her head back from a gazing down at a tablet screen, rubs her violet eyes, and sighs. “I’ll see if there’s anything I get from the Grand Library. But, it might take awhile. Especially after I reveal the latest revelation to them. The administration is already disturbed by what we’ve uncovered. This will shake everything up.”

Lifting an uneasy brow, Bach turns his head towards Aristespha with a curious tone. “You think they’ll be upfront with everything? Um, no offense to you, but... It really seems like the Grand Library has a REALLY bad history with covering things up. And, um, hoping nobody finds them?”

With a tug at the corner of her mouth, Aristespha flits her eyes wide, frowns uncomfortably, and hisses out a sigh through her gritting teeth. “None taken. It’s been... unsettling learning all this myself. I have my own issues with all this. But, as for the information, I’m certain with all the different organizations involved in their affairs, they’ll be forth coming with all the information we can stand if we can resolve this problem.”

Rolling her violet eyes, she rests her ivory skinned, blue and violet hinted cheek against her hand, and grumbles. “Whatever it takes to make it go away at this point... I’m certain.”

Sotalia peeks around the front seat, and rests a swept back, black horn against the head rest. “Not to pry, but you sound a little disillusioned there, girl.”

Aristespha drifts her gaze over to Sotalia, contorts her face, and groans. “Ungh. Oh gods yes, I am. Just when I think the whole Orth Ridge situation was just a very bad exception, we keep finding things that frame it as the usual way they operate.”

Waving out her hand to pantomime her dissatisfaction, she shakes her head while gazing her frustration up above. “Also, I honestly don’t know if what they supposedly know is correct, and even if they have fucking clue to determine was is and isn’t accurate anymore.”

She levels a blank stare ahead at the driver’s seat in front of her, and sighs long with a frown. “I’m sorry. They are still worth trying since they can give us some information fast. And, maybe more over time.”

Sebastian smiles comfortingly to Aristespha, and hovers closer to her in the aisle. “I know, dear. But, I think we got some time. And, if are going to find this thing... We need to make the best educated guesses we can make, the first time around. So, what do you think would be the best source to try?”

Aristespha straightens up in her seat as attention from the team settles upon her. She brushes her fingers through her long, silvery blue hair, and guides it over her very long, pointed ears. Searching through her mind, her violet eyes dart between different options, and her mouth twists to different judgments. Finally, a smile graces her ivory face, and she nods with developing hope. “I know the person to contact. I checked and it turns out this search area is very close to where he usually travels.”

Sebastian tilts his head, quirks his brow, and leans closer. “Um, who, dear?”

Laying back against her seat, she shifts her attention towards her tablet, and taps to a digital map. “Marcus Harold. The spirit mage I learned from. From what I remember, he likes to the spend the Fall months near the smaller search area. So, he might have some knowledge or maybe a way to help us find this aether access point.”

Bach blinks his blue eyes, and cocks his head as memory retrieves the past. “Yeah, you mentioned him a while back. Negotiates with spirits and... has an Elder Geist... friend... Right?”

Aristespha grants Bach a nod. Sebastian cracks a grin and gazes to Aristespha eagerly. “Huh, okay. So, dear, how do we contact this guy?”

Gritting her teeth briefly, Aristespha sighs with a smirk and chuckles. “It’s the not easiest task, Sebastian.”

Sotalia rolls her golden eyes, and grumbles. “Of course, it couldn’t be as simple a phone call or even sending a letter.”

Aristespha lifts her brow, cracks a sly grin, and laughs. “Unfortunately, no. He wanders around depending on the seasons. He also does not live anywhere with any reception. And, most electronics don’t last long with him.”

Dretphi places her toy thudkicker in a bag next to velvet black dragon, cocks her head, and presents a curious expression on her tan face. “Breaks them?”

Glancing back around the seat, Aristespha rolls her eyes and laughs. “Oh no, he doesn't. Anima spirits will fight over inhabiting the devices. THEY end up breaking it when they get too rough.”

Cideeda perks her furry ears, aims her emerald eyed gaze into the rear view mirror, and blinks in a mix confusion and wonder. Sebastian contorts his face and hums in thought. “So, what do you have to do to contact him?”

With a plotting smile, Aristespha crosses her arms, rests her chin upon hand, and ponders out loud. “I’ll need to call upon a messenger spirit. He taught me a ritual that allows me to attract a spirit capable of locating him. But, we’ll have to do it in a spirit and magic rich area to have the best results.”

Drumming her claw tips on the steering wheel, Cideeda directs her voice back and grins toothily. “How about that place with the pond we found the crystals in? We should be able to get to that big camp tomorrow night.”

Sotalia smirks slyly and stretches out her arms forward. “Yeah! That had a plenty of magic. Plus, I wouldn’t mind looking for a few more of those crystals.”

Rolling his eyes, Bach shakes his head and snorts. “Did you actually leave any behind?”

With a playful pout, Sotalia huffs and fights off guilt sneaking into her smile. “I left A FEW behind. Just in case others came by and wanted some.”

Cideeda slowly drifts her incredulous stare over towards Sotalia. “Oh, you mean the ones you couldn’t reach?”

Sotalia straightens her posture in the seat, and crosses her arms defiantly. Sebastian shakes his head, and smiles at Aristespha. “So, sounds like a good enough place to try?”

Bach shrugs and comments. “I mean, it’s along the way and convenient. So, if we have to try a few times, it probably won’t be a big deal? And, there’s definitely spirit like things in that one spot.”

After gauging the options in her head, Aristespha gradually nods and smiles hopefully. “I think that location will work. Certain the best place to try right now.”

She blinks a moment, tightens her smile, and sighs with hints of embarrassment. “And it gives me time. I need to review the intricate details of the ritual. It’s... a bit involved.”

Calvin maneuvers through the busy street cafe and stops next to a table with two plates of food. He slides his larger frame into the seat, tugs his leg over, and glances around with his brown eyes. “So, anything new with our guest of honor?”

Carefully peering her aquamarine eyes over towards a section of the cafe, Treevianna twist her blue hinted, tan face, and grumbles softly. Her very long, fuzzy ears perk towards the same area, and she straightens her lithe figure in the seat. “About the only questionable thing he’s done is request extra olives in his sandwich. Hasn’t said or done anything else.”

She narrows her far off stare through the groups of people dining and the servers, and settles her gaze upon a man with wispy white hair, a thinner frame, and a blue scarf wrapped around his neck. Glancing over to Calvin, she pinches a fried potato wedge between her sharp nails, and frowns with tinges of annoyance. “I REALLY hate we have to just stick around watch. There HE is just casually enjoying a sandwich. And, we aren’t doing anything about it.”

Slowly shaking his head of short graying hair, Calvin cracks a sly grin and sighs while gripping his burger. “But we ARE doing something about it. We’re keeping watch and keeping tabs on him.”

Treevianna rolls her eyes, stares unamused at Calvin, and nips the potato wedge with her pronounced canine. “I know that. But, I feel like we should be doing... I don’t know... More?”

Calvin bites into his burger, chews while searching his thoughts, and shrugs. After swallowing, he calmly speaks in a quiet tone to Treevianna. “Listen. Right now the best thing we can do is to know where he is in Perimeter. And, we need to make sure our usual problems don’t give him any problems.”

He leans closer and whispers to Treevianna. “If this Isaac character was to run into that Terra Priest sect in the south, the Northside Flames, or even a dumbass Skid... We might be spending the next few months trying to find what remains of THEM in whatever he leaves standing. This is a Dark Lord we’re talking about here.”

Treevianna narrows her unconvinced stare at Calvin, glances her aquamarine eyes over to Isaac on the other side of the sidewalk cafe, and sighs with a frustrated roll of her eyes. “I know. It makes sense. But, I just don’t see it. He just looks like some philosophy professor on a lunch break.”

Calvin twists his beard on his face, flexes his shoulders muscles, and snorts. “I know. But, magic power doesn’t care about your looks. I’ve seen some of the roughest bums fling out fire bolts that melted holes in car doors. You never know. And hopefully... We won’t.”

Finishing up the last of her fried potato wedges, Treevianna idly gazes down at her salad, and groans. “I guess. I just hope keeping tabs on him actually does some kind of good.”

With a reassuring nod, Calvin smirks, glances around, and speaks in a low tone. “It might. The longer he stays here, the more prepared some other forces are getting. We still haven’t heard back from the group that went to Precipice. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if him being here isn’t because of them.”

Treevianna quirks her brow, rocks her head side to side, and perks her very long, fuzzy ears. “I don’t know. He doesn’t seem like he’s in a rush. He’s just enjoying his sandwich and keeps looking through a bunch of notebooks.”

She presses her fork down into her salad, pauses a moment, and cracks a curious grin. “So, what forces are getting ready? Have YOU heard anything?”

Calvin furrows his brow, glances around, and covers his mouth with a hand. “Think the GAA might make a move. The Rangers are probably just going to monitor him, and will just be glad if he leaves.”

He settles back into his chair as Treevianna blinks at the new information, and shrugs with a sigh. “Plus, the rangers are too busy working with Vukasin to take care of some crazy cyborg terrorists from out west trying to raid Precipice.”

Cocking her head back, Treevianna raps her finger nails up on the tabletop while idly holding a fork of salad in her free hand. “Wait... Red Gears? In the Zone? All the way to Precipice? I know they had tried to raid Yazoo...”

She pauses her train of thought, sneaks a peek out the corner of her eye towards Isaac, aims a fuzzy ear over, and waits. After a moment, she returns her attention towards Calvin. “What went down? I’ve just heard bits and pieces.”

Calvin draws in a long breath, grimaces slightly, and chuckles awkwardly. “I didn’t believe it myself when I first heard it, but... This came from an official report, even the stuff about the giant mech.”

Off in a quiet corner, Isaac relaxes with his olive stuffed sandwich, gently swirls a mug of tea, and studies a map of the region. He narrows his gray eyes, rocks his head side to side indecisively, and contorts his face in thought. After a few moments, he picks up a pencil, circles a spot, and lightly traces a route upon an indicated roadway. A gentle wind breezes by, and the tails of his blue scarf flap along.

Leaning against a large metal barn door frame, Thomas maintains a watchful eye down a long corridor of opened stalls. Rolling his shoulders, he works through a few motions with his cybernetic arms, stretches his neck, and cracks a smirk at the mumbling complaints faintly echoing in the space. Pushing a wide shovel underneath a mound of muck, Cind grits her teeth, scrunches up her nose, and hoists the pile up into a huge bucket. Kell leans out from an open stall, muscles over a rake, and expedites excrement out of the pen. In the furthest corner, Marcus coughs loud with a wavering wretch, sighs long, and steps out with a broom in hand.

From behind Thomas, a large bipedal creature leisurely ambles over, stops beside Thomas, and grunts. Thomas glances over, scratches the long, scaly back of the old animal, and pats its head. “How’s my favorite, ancient pseudo-dragon doing today?”

The pseudo-dragon gurgles happily at the attention, leans its heavy, hunched frame against Thomas’s side, and pines in a low, dramatic tone. Thomas shakes his head of short, silvery gray hair, and twists the amusement on his face. He massages the pseudo-dragon’s neck around the shoulders. “I know. Life is so hard for you, Bessie. No one pays you enough attention.”

Bessie grunts while flexing claws on smaller arms, and wags its large counter-balancing tail against the barn door frame. It grumbles happily, turning a large head with the petting. With a humored smile, Thomas laughs, plucks off stuck, dried scales off Bessie’s back, and points over to Cind, Kell, and Marcus. “So, you want to check to see how the new workers are doing?”

Craning it’s long neck up to Thomas, Bessie slowly angles a stare ahead. It narrows its brilliant green eyes, curls an upper lip up to reveal teeth, and snorts loudly. Cind glances over, cocks her head of red, braided hair, and uneasily shifts her bright blue eyes towards Kell. Noticing the attention from Cind, Kell uncertainly dons an easy-going smile, blinks his purple on black eyes, and carefully wipes stray shaggy hair over a chipped horn with his upper forearm. Bessie flexes its old body, plants its large clawed feet, and sniffs the air with a trace of a frown. Thomas shakes his head, gazes over towards Cind, Kell, and Marcus, and calls out. “Inspector Bessie is here to check your progress!”

With heavy stomps, Bessie marches forward, aims a hard stare upon Cind, Kell, and Marcus, and pauses to survey stalls. Walking in moments later, Albert steps quietly next to Thomas, presents a large soft serve ice cream cone, and smiles lovingly. “The concessions staff finally fixed the ice cream machine. Just in time, too. The line from the children’s whelp show was getting a little rowdy with the wait.”

Thomas flits his blue eyes wide, eagerly cups the napkin wrapped cone in his hands, and smirks with glee. “Thank you.”

Albert slowly scans down the center aisle, furrows his olive skinned brow, and glances his amber eyes over to Thomas. “So, what is Bessie doing?”

Finishing up a large bite off the top of the tower of vanilla/chocolate swirl, Thomas frees a hand to motion down the barn. “Oh, um... I figured Bessie might want to inspect the kids’ work so far.”

Wrapping a hand around Thomas’s forearm, Albert guides the cone within reach, licks up the starts of melt off, and grins slyly. He gently releases the cone back to Thomas, reaches into his pants pockets, and chuckles sinisterly. “Oh, I think I need to record this.”

Thomas turns his head to the side, and inquires. “Any particular reason why?”

Positioning his aetherphone, Albert taps through the different menus, adjusts the aim, and smiles wide. “As part of the deal I brokered for their community service here, Mr. Frenzacia requested seeing evidence of the youths being put to some honest, hard labor.”

A mischievous grin appears on Thomas’s face, he takes his turn with the ice cream cone, and holds it near Albert. “Oh. Then get ready. It’s about to get good.”

He hushes his tone and whispers. “Also, say how cold and refreshing the ice cream is. They’ve been sweltering in here since lunch.”

Albert blinks his amber eyes, slowly turns his head of slick, black hair, and contorts his amusement. “Gods, Thomas. Feeling a little mean today, aren’t we?”

Allowing Albert to bite off some of the waffle cone, Thomas smiles devilishly and snickers. “That’s nothing. I put that Marcus punk in charge of cleaning Bessie’s stall.”

Quirking his brow, Albert turns his attention to his aetherphone, and taps record. Bessie finishes a slow survey of the cleared stall next to Cind. Pausing a moment, it stares at Cind, looks her over with a tapping toe claw, and walks away. Maintaining a stern expression, it marches up to Kell, moves around him, and gazes inside another emptied stall. Kell and Cind exchange nervous glances. Both wait uncomfortably. Bessie steps out, sniffs Kell over, and snorts. As Bessie continues to the other end of the barn, both Cind and Kell sigh in relief and return to their tasks.

Bessie arrives in front of the largest stall, and Marcus steps out. With a bold grin, Marcus gestures with a dramatic flair towards the interior space. “It should be ready for your magnificence. Everything should be just perfect.”

Scrutinizing, brilliant green eyes glare at Marcus for a moment. Bessie walks inside, halts in the center of the space, and inspects. It sniffs the air, claws at the layer of bedding under its toes, and gazes over the appearance of the walls. Dropping down it’s head, it snorts through the material covering the floor, smells the concrete surface below, and darts its gaze around. After long seconds of contemplation, Bessie levels out, pivots around, and sticks its head out from the stall door. Marcus presents a big, expectant grin, and chuckles. “I see it was to your liking?”

Bessie straddles over a particular section of floor, narrows a glare at Marcus, and cracks a toothy grin. Marcus puzzles and awkwardly mumbles. “What does that mean-”

The pseudo-dragon’s tail hikes up. A gurgling bubbling sounds out from the beast’s body. Then, a heavy plop splats upon the ground behind. Bessie steps out, kicks bedding over the new pile, and growls with a disgusted glance behind. Marcus watches utterly dumbfounded as Bessie marches indignantly off, stares at the new mess, and mutters out loud. “What the- Why- COME ON!”

While Albert hides his snickering behind the camera, Thomas vainly conceals his wide grin and yells out. “You missed a spot!”

Ripples of faint energy spread out across pond and fade to prismatic waves upon the surface. Sotalia’s golden eyes search beneath the water from her perch upon a large rock, and she flexes her grip eagerly. Combing back her fiery orange, wavy hair over her swept back, black horns with her long, thick nails, she contorts hints of frustration upon her tan face and grumbles. “Damn it. I can’t find any of the crystals I left behind.”

Cideeda furrows her brow, wags her long, medium length haired tail, and rolls her emerald green eyes. “Well, I guess someone found the ones you left behind for them.”

Narrowing her stare at the water, Sotalia twists her mouth into an annoyed grimace, and sighs. “Well, fuck me for being considerate. Oh well. Maybe we’ll try some other pond, later.”

Gazing up into to the early evening sky, Cideeda studies the emerging stars overhead and the last vestiges of orange upon the western horizon. “Yeah, maybe...”

She reaches up high for a low branch, gently pulls it down, and smirks as she studies a leaf. Focusing her stare upon the plant, she bites her lower lip, lightly places a claw tip upon the surface, and concentrates. Faint flows of energy travel up her forearm, merge down her light brown finger, and condense to the tip of her claw. With a childish grin, she draws out an ethereal caricature of fvalian upon the leaf surface and watches the residual glow fade over time. Sotalia leans her head next to Cideeda’s, smirks slyly, and giggles. “You’re getting really good. Might have to step up your training a little.”

Cideeda blinks, glances over to Sotalia, and rolls her eyes. “Eventually. I’m pretty there’s children that can do better.”

Standing up straight, Sotalia shakes her head. “Don’t be so hard yourself. You only just started a few months ago. Kids have nothing better to do all the time and have years to do it in... And still don’t make any progress.”

Release the branch of the tree, Cideeda sighs, shrugs her shoulders, and carefully steps around the pond shore. “I guess. Speaking of magic, let’s see if Aristespha has gotten that ritual together.”

Sotalia grits her teeth as she follows behind Cideeda. “I hope so. Because I REALLY don’t want to have to debug those circle glyphs.”

Flicking her furry ears behind, Cideeda directs her curious tone back. “It looks a lot more complicated than anything I’ve seen you, Bach, or even Aristespha do.”

Shaking her head, Sotalia groans with a slight frown. “That’s why I stuck to power spells. Far less stuff to remember. Just the basic incantations and gestures, then push all the flow you got.”

Cideeda and Sotalia slip through a thick section of bushes, and step out into a flat, dry clearing of packed dirt. Aristespha sits in the middle of an intricate, complicated circle of runes, glyphs, and inscriptions. Her attention bounces between a worn notebook page and a section of a technical diagram on her tablet. She points at Bach, narrows her focus upon the tablet, and hums. “Okay. Now we need to put a few small details off the signal lines for each transmission section.”

Bach looks up from pressing lines into the dirt with a wooden skewer, and squints at the tablet screen Aristespha shows. “I think I can manage that, but I’m not the best artist when it comes to clay.”

Cideeda perks her furry ears, walks over next to Bach, and squats down. She studies the tablet, spots a matching section, and gazes to Aristespha. “Maybe I can help?”

Aristespha blinks her violet eyes, thinks a moment, and nods. “If you can get the details better, it will improve the ritual’s potential.”

Flexing her fingers, Cideeda examines the tablet display and the notebook page Aristespha holds up. She tugs at the corner her mouth, and concentrates her emerald eyes downwards. With accurate strokes, she deftly inscribes fine lines and shapes into the clay rich dirt with her claws. Dretphi peeks over Cideeda’s shoulder, watches the motions, and returns her attention to another similar section. With precise repetition, she carefully cuts a small knife tip into the ground and copies the design out. Bach, Cideeda, and Dretphi systematically go around the circle and fill in the fine traces of a complex pattern. Aristespha examines each completed section, and confirms with an appreciative smile. Sebastian’s visage hovers over and down from above the work, lands next to Sotalia, and mumbles. “So, I have NO CLUE what all that does. Not a single fucking idea.”

Sotalia crosses her arms, smiles tightly, and shrugs her shoulders. “You’re telling me. This stuff always confuses me. I always got one small thing wrong, spent hours figuring it out, and never got the results I wanted.”

Minute pass and Cideeda taps on final point with a claw tip into the clay, grins toothily at her work, and sits back on the ground. “Wow, that’s a lot more involved than those pages from those books.”

Bach slides back from the circle, shudders his head, and rubs his blue eyes. “Oh yeah. Those were just beginner books. There’s a whole bunch of circle, runic, and other type of spells like this. A lot of flow guidance and manipulation to do all kinds of things. Scrolls can be really involved.”

Cideeda smirks slyly and pokes Bach gently with a claw. “Yeah, I heard. Bar games and all.”

Bach groans and tightens his smile with a bit of lingering embarrassment. Dretphi scoots over to the rest of the seated audience, cleans off the small knife blade, and smiles happily. “I want to learn this. Next time we practice magic.”

Aristespha settles herself in the middle of the multi-strata circle, puts away some of her reference materials, and reaches beside her. She hands the sword in the scabbard to Bach and smirks. “You better hold onto this. We don’t need any unexpected interference.”

Bach takes hold of the sword, puts on his lap, and nods. “Yeah, don’t want anything to get the wrong idea. Supposed to be a peaceful negotiation with the spirits, right?”

Aristespha chuckles and opens up a plastic bag. Closing her eyes, she reopens them to a glowing violet, and scoops out a handful of gray sand. Speaking out an incantation and gesturing with her free hand, she sprinkles the metallic granules in the air above the vast circle inscriptions. An invisible force sweeps up the material, gently guides it just above the clay, and channels into the grooves in the dirt. Once the sand settles into the pathways, Aristespha gazes over to Sotalia and releases a tense breath. “Okay. It is ready. I will need you to provide a significant amount of magical energy. I want to make sure I have a good offering for the spirit that answers this summoning.”

Sotalia nods with a proud grin, steps over while stretching her arms out, and laughs confidently. “THAT I can do. Just say when and where.”

Aristespha reads over the notepad page, nods to herself as her glowing violet eyes comprehend the material, and places the reference in her lap. Drawing in a long breath, she rests her fingers upon the circle, bows her head down, and exhales. Flows of magic spill out from her arms, sink into the channels, and spark between the gray sand. The energy travels through the pathways, pulsates with a prismatic glow, and spreads to the entirety of the circle. Aristespha lifts her arms away from the ground with threads of flow connected, speaks rhythmic chants between verses of exact incantations, and gestures with flowing motions. Sections of flow within the inscriptions shift to solid colors, vibrate in specific patterns, and shift in growing consistency. The outer most perimeter of the channels stabilizes to an idle glow, and Aristespha calmly gazes over to Sotalia. “Sotalia, place your hands on the outside ring, and flow into it as much as you are conformable with. We need enough to attract the right level of spirit, but can add more if needed.”

Sotalia blinks her golden eyes to attention, focuses upon the glowing circle, and cautiously places her hands down. With a deep breath in, flows of energy leave her body, swirl around her arms, and sink into the brightening patterns. After minute, Sotalia lifts her fingers from the perimeter of the ritual, shakes her hands, and smirks with a wink to Aristespha. “If whoever needs more, let them ask first.”

Aristespha nods in agreement. Mustering her full focus, she presses her hands together, condenses energy between, and throws her arms out. A translucent pulse billows out from the center point, quickly travels out into the surrounding fields and forests, and disappears from view. Moments later, small specs of energy drift around the site, and land on the ground, plants, and even Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sotalia, and Sebastian. Seconds pass and small manifestations of ethereal wildlife assemble nearby. A few sit close to the observers. After a minute, larger spirits wander in and keep a reserved distance from the center point of the ritual. With each passing minute, the gathering of spiritual entities grows from dozens to hundreds, and the team maintains awkward watches surrounded by the peaceful congregation.

Finally, a cloudy, humanoid figure shifts to opacity into the clearing, and purposely steps with a regimented gait towards Aristespha. It stops a meter away from the circle. Sebastian’s visage wavers momentarily and he drifts close to Bach. Aristespha eases out a calming breath, gazes up to the tall, ethereal being, and inquires. “Can you deliver a message to the receiving circles indicated and release the content to Marcus Harold?”

The entity cocks its misty head, kneels down, and stretches an arm to the inscriptions around Aristespha. Tendrils of energy sink into the channels. The outer layers dim and the inner shells flicker. A ghostly voice reverberates out into the vicinity. “Yes. I am familiar with these. And, that one.”

The thicker hair on the back of Cideeda’s neck stands up, and her furry ears flick around in vain to locate a source of the words. Aristespha maintains a cool, collected stare upon the being. “Is the offering acceptable compensation?”

All the channels within the circle darken to a dull fading illumination, and the entity pulls its arm away. It waits quietly a moment, and flickers in brightness. “Almost.”

Aristespha furrows her brow, and summons up a stern tone. “What else is required?”

The entity pivots its form slowly, extends its hazy hand, and points right at Bach. “A token of the OLD POWER.”

Bach’s blue eyes widen, and he reflexively leans back with a tightening grip upon the sword. When a pair of eyes glow out from the spirit, Dretphi, Cideeda, and Sotalia protectively shift closer to Bach, and Sebastian stares with arms crossed. Aristespha grits her teeth, narrows a glare upon the entity, and calls out. “Your dealings are WITH ME.”

The being cranes its head around, leans towards Aristespha, and the nods respectfully to her. “Yes. I understand. I request you ask for this small offer of POWER. That is my price.”

Aristespha contorts her ivory face, aims a disapproving glance upon the ethereal creature, and directs her apologetic tone to Bach. “You do NOT have to comply, Bach. We’ll just find another without such a steep cost.”

Bach ponders a moment, straightens his posture, and musters up his courage. “No... It’s fine. I can do this.”

He glances down at the sword, gazes over to Dretphi, and hands the sheathed blade to her. “Could you hold this for a moment. I don’t want to summon up elder energy near it.”

Dretphi nods, securely grasps the scabbard, and maintains a watch. Bach places his hands together, closes his eyes with a long exhales, and reopens his eyes to a bright blue. Moments of tense concentration pass, and tiny dots of pure white appear in his glowing blue pupils. Faint threads of white flow weave around Bach’s form, twist around his arms, and condense between his hands. The sword vibrates in Dretphi’s grip.


Annoyance awkwardly springs out into Dretphi’s expression, and she wraps the sword in the scabbard tightly between her arms and stomach. The swords warning drones at a muffled volume.

As the flow continues, spirits small and large drift their attention from the Aristespha’s ritual and witness the forming power. Gritting his teeth, Bach relaxes gradually and the magical energies wane. He slowly extends his arms towards the tall, misty spirit, and slowly parts his hands.

A small orb of pure white light beams out and casts brilliant light against the surrounding night. Bach collects himself after a few breaths, and gazes uncertainly at the being. “Is this sufficient?”

The ethereal humanoid steps forward to Bach. With a glowing eyed gaze, it kneels down, bows respectfully, and speaks softly. “Yes. A generous offer. May I accept?.”

Bach glances around, cocks his head to the side, and nods. “Yes. You may.”

The being’s hands materialize from the obfuscating haze, reach out, and cup hold of the precious orb. In seconds, the energy dissipates from the sphere, and radiates through the clarifying form of the spirit. The hazy visage recollects into a more defined shape of a man in older period armor. He gazes graciously towards Bach, and projects a clearer voice. “Thank you.”

He stands up, steps to Aristespha, and kneels at the ready. “Your message, please.”

Aristespha maintains a cool, collected expression, presents a bound bundle of paper, and waits. The messenger spirit places his hand upon the packet, and floods the material with energy. He lifts his hand away, and energy manifests into facsimiles of the paperwork away from the originals. The magical duplicates fold into themselves and merge with the messenger. He stands back up and bows towards Aristespha. “Your message has been copied. I will deliver it. Thank you for your payment.”

With a simple nod, Aristespha smiles respectfully. “Thank you for taking this task. It is all I have. You may leave.”

The messenger spirit walks away in the direction of the pond. While passing the water, he pauses a moment, pivots, and gazes down into the pool. The freshly defined eyes widen in surprise, and he touches his hand to his face. A smile appears as his form fades away.

The last illumination dissipates from the circle. The gathering of spirits wander away, disappear from sight, and zip off. After a long awkward silence, Aristespha lays down upon the ground, covers her face with her hands, and groans. “Oh my gods, I had totally forgotten how tense that whole process is!”

As the rest of the team relaxes, Aristespha mutters out some evuukian to herself and springs her violet eyes open. She pulls herself back up to a seat, and directs her concern at Bach. “Are you okay, Bach? I’m so sorry! I didn’t think it would request something like that! Gods, I should have factored that as a possibility.”

Bach blinks, glances around at the attention upon him, and shrugs his shoulders. “Um... I’m okay. Yeah. I think I’m fine.”

A wave of relief travels through Aristespha as she pants through fatigue and waning panic. “Good...”

Sebastian’s ethereal form lands next to Aristespha, and he cranes his head to gaze into her eyes. “Dear? You okay? Need anything?”

She pulls up her legs, wraps her arms around her knees, and sighs with a tired smile. “I’m fine, Sebastian. I’m just tired. Might need a recovery potion or two.”

Sotalia scoots over to Aristespha’s side, retrieves a small bottle from a pouch on her belt, and rubs Aristespha’s back. “You did good, girl. That was REALLY intense.”

Cideeda chuckles out her tension and blinks her emerald eyes. “Yeah, you could say that. You must have attracted every spirit for kilometers around here.”

Dretphi presents the sword back to Bach, and he accepts it back. She quietly inquires. “Need help to get back to camp?”

Pondering a moment, Bach shakes his head and smirks. “I think I’ll be fine. Yeah. Thank you, though.”

He motions his head over to Aristespha and whispers back. “But, I think we’ll need to help her back, though.”

Dretphi nods in agreement and smiles to Bach.

Resting her green on black eyes towards the ceiling above, Shadeesa slowly eases out a breath, rocks her head of long, dark green hair upon the pillow, and gently rubs her large belly underneath the bed sheets. She grits her teeth with a wince, hisses in a gasp, and groans uncomfortably. Scooping up her aetherphone upon the bed next to her, she brushes stray hairs over her swept up horns, taps the screen, and watches the stopwatch record another, shorter lap time. Contorting an acceptance upon her light gray, white freckled face, she mutters a short, muted phrase in emin. She leans gradually to her side, reaches out towards Kaleb, and pokes his bare shoulder with a thick, black finger nail. “Hey, Kaleb.”

After few more hard prods, Kaleb flutters his light brown eyes in the dim ambient illumination of the bedroom, and groggily summons up enough consciousness to mumble. “Yeah?”

With an endearing smile, Shadeesa calmly states. “It’s time.”

Kaleb contorts his sun tanned face, scratches his head of short blonde hair, and puzzles. His hand blindly hunts for his aetherphone on the nightstand, and drags it over. He squints, focuses enough awareness to the read the screen, and grumbles. “It’s three in the morning... Monday...”

Shadeesa blinks blankly. With an amused smirk, she rolls her eyes and shakes her head. Leaning over more, she places her hand upon the opposing side of Kaleb’s face, guides his attention to her, and explicitly explains while exaggerating pats upon her belly. “It’s time, for the baby.”

Kaleb searches his mind. Moments pass by as other fragments of consciousness awaken. A cascade of cognition floods his face with sudden recognition of the situation. His body tenses, and he smiles comfortingly towards Shadeesa over his surprise. “Oh- OH! Yeah! Okay. Um, I’ll, uh, get everything ready. You just take it easy, okay.”

Shadeesa smiles lovingly, pats Kaleb on the side of his face, and nods. “You do that. I’ll get ready.”

Carefully, Kaleb slips out of bed, and strives to keep from moving the mattress too much. Once clear, he steps over to the light switch, and masks confidence over his worried tone. “Turning on the lights, dear.”

Shadeesa settles back down on her back, and shields her eyes with her hand preemptively. “Go ahead.”

The lights flip on, Kaleb squints against the sudden brightness, fumbles over to the dresser, and sorts through his clothes. Quickly dropping out of his boxers, he assembles an acceptable enough outfit in a hurry. Hopping out the bedroom door with one sock on and the other halfway, he stumbles down the hall, and mutters while searching around. Shadeesa winces through another wave of discomfort, and gradually eases herself up into a seat upon the bed. She cautiously stands up, steps with awareness to another dresser, and opens a drawer. She sets out choice clothing upon the bed, and pauses to watch Kaleb through the bedroom door carry a large suitcase quickly down the hall. She listens to his progress through the long brick house, and the familiar sound of the side door opening and closing.

The side door sounds out again, footsteps get louder, and Kaleb peers into the room. “Uh, um, uh, should I call the hospital or should you-”

Shadeesa pats down a large, loose t-shirt over her pregnant figure, gazes at Kaleb, and points to her aetherphone. “I will. Could you pass me my-”

Kaleb swiftly moves to the bed, sweeps up the phone, and presents it to her. “Yeah. Um, do you need anything? Water? I, uh...”

With a humored sigh, she guides Kaleb’s face with her hands, kisses him on the lips, and runs her fingers through his short hair. “I’m good. You get the van ready, and then you can walk me out.”

She points towards the foot of the bed, and Kaleb braces her as she sits down. He hands her the pair of sweat pants partially out of the dresser.

Kaleb leaves quickly. Shadeesa gradually works herself into the pants, lays back down on the bed, and waits. With an anticipating grimace, she tenses up, hisses out through her gritting teeth, and winces both her eyes closed. Half a minute later, she gasps, wanders her gaze around, and plops her head upon the bedspread. “Just stay in there a little while longer. Oh... Gods...”

She picks up her aetherphone next to her, sorts through the contact list, and taps a number. Summoning up a calm tone she reports her name, situation, vital information, and estimated time for arrival to the other side of the call.

Outside under the carport, Kaleb opens the passenger’s side door of the van, sets the seat back, and clears a wide walk path of any debris. After confirmation, he swings the side door wide, props the storm door open, and quickly goes into the house. Low grumbles and mumbles resonate from the hangar and Lagi’s head peers out from the partly ajar main doors. He groggily glances around, and puzzles at the activity under the carport.

Kaleb exits from the side door, pivots around, and reaches out to Shadeesa. As she carefully steps down the few stairs, he supports her movements. Kaleb holds Shadeesa close, escorts her to passenger seat of the van, and helps buckle her in. He stops a moment, gazes into her eyes, and smirks. “Okay. Anything else you can think of?”

Shadeesa smiles, pecks him on the cheek, and settles her head against the seat. “I love you. We’ll make it work one way or another. I just want to get there before too long.”

Sounds of large hangar doors opening catches both their attentions. Lagi wanders over chirping worried whines. Kaleb grimaces, eases the van door closed, and whispers to Shadeesa as she rolls the window down. “Love you, too. I’ll lock up the house, and try to convince Lagi to stay here for now.”

Shadeesa perks her brow and chuckles softly. “You can try. Let me calm him down a little.”

Kaleb steps around towards the house. Shadeesa motions the anxious blue-black scaled dragon over, scratches his chin, and soothes him. “It’s okay, Lagi. Mommy has to deliver your new little brother. I’ll be back soon enough. Don’t you worry.”

Lagi pines and whines, and purrs out uneasy phrases, while Shadeesa smiles motherly. Kaleb hops into the driver’s seat, musters up an firm tone, and directs his voice to Lagi. “Lagi. I need you to stay here and be a good boy. Watch the house. We’ll all be back soon. Just go back to sleep for now, okay?”

The large dragon clicks and grumbles through a few patterns, and whimpers. Eventually, Lagi nods in agreement. Kaleb grins, puts the van into gear, and backs out on the road.

Minutes into the very early morning drive down the two lane highway, Shadeesa tilts her head over and smirks. “You know he’s not going to stay there.”

Kaleb sighs, rolls his eyes, and shakes his head. “Yeah. I know.”

He glances over into an upwards angled side view mirror, and notices the familiar draconic outline contrasting against the faint glow along the eastern horizon.

Kaleb holds his aetherphone up, furrows his brow, and twists his mouth at the display. “That’s a hell of an angle to record at Bach.”

In the foreground of the video feed on the screen, Bach rolls his eyes and groans. “I know, I know. We’re still a ways out from Perimeter. We tried a bunch of spots, but standing on the back bumper and holding it up like this was first thing to work. I just got enough of a radio signal to get the video call to connect.”

Behind in the downwards shot, Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sotalia, and Sebastian wave as a group. Kaleb shrugs his shoulders with a snort, and smirks. “Ah, whatever works. So...”

Donning a proud grin, Kaleb eases himself up onto the edge of the hospital bed, and slowly pans the phone camera around him towards Shadeesa. “Let me introduce you all to our son, Cassidy Derron Hellstrom-Serania.”

With a loving smile, Shadeesa angles the bundle of colorful blankets gently and reveals a sleeping baby. Smiles appear on the team’s faces and sounds admiration arrive from the other side of the call. Shadeesa smirks towards the phone camera and giggles. “We decided if it was a girl I would pick the first name and he’d get the middle. But, it was a boy, so we switched out.”

She pats the thin blonde hair tuft on his head, pulls back the cloth cap, and reveals a pair of slight bumps. “He’s going to have my horns from the looks of it.”

Kaleb smiles and chuckles. “And, he’s got your iris color.”

Shadeesa lifts her brow, and shakes her head. “He’s going to have that impossible blonde hair of yours.”

Aristespha squints her gaze. “He looks healthy and happy.”

Sotalia cups her hands around her mouth and giggles. “Oh, those gray cheeks are so cute. I hope he keeps those, but they’ll probably fade back over time.”

Shadeesa settles the newborn into her arms, squirms against the pillow behind her back, and flutters her eyes. Cideeda cracks a toothy grin and snorts. “Someone is tired. How long did the labor take?”

Lifting up her dark green eyebrow, Shadeesa tugs at the corner of her mouth. “Oh, you know... Too long. Can’t believe it’s Tuesday already. But, we both got through it just fine. He’s been quiet so far. I really hope that lasts.”

Sebastian laughs ethereally, and smirks. “So, what’s Lagi think about his baby brother?”

Kaleb slowly pivots his head towards the hospital room window, and grimaces with a groan. He watches the breath of a large dragon fog against the glass. Shaking his head, Kaleb sighs and rolls his eyes. “I’m sure they’ll be the best of buds. He’s just really protective and stubborn right now.”

Lagi’s bright green eyes gaze into the room, and he whines longingly. Kaleb blinks, grits his teeth briefly, and flits his eyes wide. “Speaking of which, I need to make good on a promise real soon to the administrator.”

Bach quirks his brow and tilts his head. “What promise is that?”

Kaleb grins awkwardly and chuckles nervously. “Oh, you know. They won’t take issue with Lagi parking his ass out the window, IF I bring him over to the children’s wing everyday he wants to be here. Probably should do that soon.”

Shadeesa smiles as Cassidy stirs from slumber and wiggles around in the swaddle. “Just as well, I think he’ll wake up hungry soon.”

Holding the aetherphone out, Kaleb aims the camera at Shadeesa, Cassidy, and him. “Call us when you get back to Perimeter. See you all later.”

The team on the other side of the call waves and says their goodbyes. Dretphi’s voice rises up over background noise and signal interference. “Send pictures!”

After the call closes, Kaleb gazes over at his son and kisses Shadeesa. “It won’t stay this peaceful will it?”

Shadeesa shakes her head with a chuckle, and sighs. “No. Not at all. But, it’s nice now.”

She kisses Kaleb back. “I love you. Now go take Lagi to see the children.”

Kaleb nods, stands up from the bed, and opens the fogged up window. He leans down, meets Lagi’s gaze, and points to the side. “Meet me at the side entrance. Let’s play with some kids, and you can sit here with mommy afterwards.”

Lagi grumbles with a snort. Kaleb narrows his stare and adopts a fatherly tone. “Don’t be that way. The nice hospital administrator overlooked your nervous eating of A LOT of landscaping. So, go around and let’s make some children happy.”

With a huff, Lagi’s large dragon form walks along the scenic green way along the building towards the distant corner as Kaleb slides the window closed.