Episode 106

Sitting in a corner booth of the Pancake Shed, Isaac gently swirls his mug of coffee upon the table, and eyes a folded document in his hand. Blinking his eyes hard, he shifts his attention from the pencil marked map and stares out towards the white sand beaches between long docks stretching into the sea. His idle gaze wanders between the activity of the coastal town and drifts past a post of different signs detailing the rules of Yazoo’s public beaches. With a sad sigh, he pulls his attention away from a mother and father walking with a young daughter, and focuses his eyes upon studying the sketched out routes.

In a nearby booth, a large grath man grumbles quiet curses under his breath as a spoon slips out the shaky grip of his right hand. A fvalian woman dons an encouraging smile on her tan face, leans over the grath man from behind, and hugs him tightly. “You’re doing just fine, Ralthie. Just take it slow.”

Ralthinen grimaces through a few flits of frustration, eases out a slow sigh, and nods his head of dark brown hair. He narrows his reddish brown eyes upon his partially bandaged right hand, and concentrates on the movements of each finger. He gradually smirks. “I will.”

The fvalian woman rubs Ralthinen’s back, and stands up straight. She quickly brushes off her Pancake Shed uniform, cleans up the “Lucida” text on her name tag, and picks up a fresh coffee carafe from a nearby empty table. She walks over to Isaac, grins brightly, and perks up her tone. “You need anything else, sir? Top off your coffee?”

Isaac blinks his attention away from the map, glances down at his half full mug, and nods in appreciatively. “That actually sounds lovely.”

He slides his mug over towards the end of the table, rests the document upon the table, and tilts his head curiously to the side. “Sorry if I’m prying a bit too much, but... What exactly happened to your friend over there?”

Lucida smiles with a faint groan, and shakes her head. “Oh, don’t worry, sir. You aren’t prying that hard. My Ralthie is a bit too proud of the whole thing.”

Her head leads the rest of her body in a slow pivot, and she faces Ralthinen with tinges of annoyance. “Is that right, Ralthie?”

Ralthinen guides the spoon of milky cereal into mouth, blinks back to awareness, and darts his eyes awkwardly over to Lucida and Isaac. Carefully removing the empty spoon from his mouth, he cracks a proud grin on his light brown face, and nods towards Isaac. “Fought a Red Gear cyborg. Kept him occupied so others could escape. I stabbed him in the eye.”

He motions his head over towards his right shoulder. “He cut my arm off.”

With a sly smile, he chuckles. “I found my arm. He never will get his eye back.”

Lucida rolls her yellow eyes, combs back a few stray strand of her shoulder-length green hair, and droops her rounded-tip, furry ears. “He’s lucky to have that arm. I’m so happy that some PDF troops checked back and found it.”

Ralthinen frowns faintly and tests his right hand’s grip on the spoon. “Wish they found my knife.”

Shaking her head, Lucida fills up the coffee mug on the table, twists her mouth, and directs her playfully dismissive tone to Issac. “I swear, he would have rather gotten the knife back than his arm at times.”

She glances over her shoulder and watches Ralthinen struggle to coordinate his right hand and arm. After a few shaky moments, Ralthinen manages to scoop another spoonful of cereal from the bowl and put it in his mouth. Isaac smiles appreciatively to Lucida, and slides his coffee back next to him. “Thank you. I must say, he seems to be doing amazingly after losing and getting back his arm.”

Lucida rests her free hand on her hip, eases out a tired sigh, and smiles. “Yes, he is. It took the clinic calling in a few specialist doctors to regenerate and recondition his arm. He’s going to need a few more nerve treatments to get everything back...”

She gazes lovingly over to Ralthinen and slowly wags her short-haired, green tail. “But, it’s amazing the what they’ve done with the magical and regenerative treatments so far.”

Isaac gazes up to Lucida, and smiles softly. “It’s amazing what they can do these days. I look forward to what more they can do.”

Lucida nods quietly. After a few moments, she blinks back to attention and notices the mostly empty plate in front of Isaac. “Oh, are you done with your plate?”

Glancing at the scarce leftovers upon the dish, Isaac shrugs his shoulders and chuckles. “I probably am. Shouldn’t stuff myself too much before a long trip.”

In a swift, smooth motion, Lucida’s claw tips tap upon the ceramic as she plucks the plate off the tabletop. She pauses, perks her brow, and grins. “You wouldn’t happen to want anything for the road? We have a club sandwich that will taste good when you stop for lunch.”

Rocking his head side to side, Isaac deliberates a bit, and smirks into a single nod. “Put a few extra olives on it and I’ll take one to go.”

Lucida winks to Isaac. “Of course. Anything else?”

Isaac searches his thoughts and slowly shakes his head. “Nothing that I can think of. Just the check, please.”

With a nod Lucida walks over towards Ralthinen. She stops a moment, leans down, and gives him a peck on his check. A flush of color fills Ralthinen’s check and Lucida walks towards the main counter. Isaac shifts his attention back to the folded over map. His gray eyes trace the marked routes and his expression flits with contemplation. Minutes of study and thought pass between sips of coffee. Lucida returns with a small cardboard box. She places the container down upon the table, opens it up, and reveals a club sandwich with a few extra toothpicks of olives on top. “Had to be a little sneaky about olives. Hope it’s enough.”

An amused smile appears on Isaac’s face, and he graciously nods to Lucida. “Perfect. Thank you, so much.”

Lucida stands up straight with pride, and smiles as she places the bill face down. “It was my pleasure. You have a nice day and a safe trip. Please, come back again.”

She departs back to main counter, sweeps up tray of orders, and quickly navigates to different tables of customers. Isaac closes the box back up, picks up the tab, and reads it over. He retrieves his wallet from a pocket, and counts out enough paper currency to cover the total. His fingers pinch a modest tip, and he pauses. He glances over to Lucida serving out orders, handling customers, and cleaning tables. He shift his attention to Ralthinen's moments of struggles to keep the spoon stable in his recovering right hand. Isaac’s fingers draw up a generous amount, and he adds it to the total already on the table.

Scooting out of the booth seat, he stands up, puts away his wallet and map, and picks up his boxed sandwich.

The noon sun beams around scattered, white clouds overhead. A gentle repetitive chorus of the tide fills in the gaps between the recreational sounds of the shore side diner. Aristespha relaxes back in the metal mesh chair, tilts her head of long, silvery blue hair back, and welcomes the warmth of the light above. Her hand rests upon the handle of the sword and a smile cracks on her ivory face. A breeze coasts off the nearby waters. The greasy wax paper within the basket in front of her ruffles, and her hand secures the wrapper with deluxe cheeseburger leftovers the moment it tries to flutter away. Cideeda’s furry ears flick back from the crisp noise, and she scrolls through the contents of another message on her aetherphone. She spares a semblance of attention to guide a fork into the last bits of an overloaded salad, and leads the food to her mouth. Narrowing her emerald green eyes upon a posting on an aethersite, she twists her mouth with disbelief and angles the display towards Dretphi. “It’s amazing what they try to pass off as an authentic sword on these sites.”

Dretphi tosses back a few platinum blonde braids, narrows her steely gray eyes at the screen, and dismissively grimaces. “Could not cut the box it comes in.”

She shakes her head, sits up in her seat, and returns her attention to the remnants of steak and shrimp corralled by vegetables on her plate. Calm washes over her as she enjoys another bite of meal. She closes her eyes as the wind flows around. Bach yawns, slouches back into his seat, and scratches his beard. Raking his fingers through his longer brown hair, he stretches out his arms, arches his back, and settles his stare upon his cleared plate. Wandering his gaze around, he notices Sotalia turned in her seat and leaning her arms upon the patio fence. Blinking curiously, he cocks his head and watches her toss the end of a fried potato wedge down past the barrier. Hearing chirps and squeaks, he leans upon a nearby section of the perimeter railing.

Sotalia grins brightly, picks off another section of potato wedge with a long, black nails, and tosses it down. One of a trio of blue and white whelps snaps its small maw around the incoming food, and happily purrs between chews. Biting her lower lip, Sotalia tosses back her fiery orange, wavy hair, and darts her golden eyed gaze between the three critters. She points to one, pinches off another morsel, and drops it down. After snapping its mouth around the food, the whelp flaps its wings and emits muffled chirps.

Bach turns his head to face Sotalia, quirks his brow, and chuckles. “You totally want one, do you?”

Sotalia blinks to attention, glances over with a guilty smirk, and sighs with an eye roll. “Well... Yes! But, our adventuring right now doesn’t really work with taking care of a pet.”

Fighting against a sea breeze, she lets stray hairs over her black swept back horns, and snorts. “Then again, it’s probably for the best. I’d totally could turn into some crazed whelp lady. For now...”

She holds up the other end of the fried potato wedge, and grins. “I’ll just have fun spoiling the ones I can.”

Looking over the trio, she points to another one, shakes the treat, and flicks it up. The whelp springs up into a flip, snatches the morsel, and lands with a flap of the wings. Sotalia claps her hands together, giggles, and excitedly squirms. “That was really good! I wish I had more to give you.”

A chime rings out from Aristespha’s shorts pocket. She cracks her violet eyes, retrieves the device, and navigates through menus. Her eyes read through a message, and she lifts her eyebrow intrigued. “Interesting. It seems the PDF Investigators want to meet up with us tonight and catch us up on some developments.”

Cideeda perks up, stretches arms forward, and taps her claw tips upon the wooden table. “Gods, I wonder what happened while we were gone.”

Dretphi slides her chair back, stands up, and twists her mouth. “I fear nothing good.”

She side steps behind Bach, leans over the railing, and smiles at the three blue and white whelps waiting expectantly. “They are cute.”

Sotalia glances back over to the table, tilts up a wrapper lined basket, and frowns at the single fried potato wedge left. “Damn. Just one left.”

She sighs, plucks it from the container, and pushes her metal mesh chair back. “Oh well, I guess we should head back to the hotel and get ready for tonight.”

Bach surveys the table, and nods in agreement. “Yeah. Wouldn’t mind just doing nothing in the room. Maybe catch a rerun of the Next Adventurers of Nexus.”

Pausing in thought a moment, Sotalia searches her mind, grits her teeth briefly, and hums to herself. “Gods, I wonder they got put through this time.”

She stands up, pivots around, and waves the potato piece to get the attention of the critters below. “Okay, you three! Go long!”

She lobs the fried treat into the air and towards the beach sands. The trio of whelps rush off. The potato piece plops down upon the white sands. As the whelps close in, few zone parrots land nearby. The whelps and parrots halt short of the treat, and stand off in a cacophony squawks and shrieks. Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, and Dretphi watch with growing curiosity. Sotalia covers her mouth and blinks in surprise. The two groups of critters exchange aggressive calls, spreading of wings, and bold posturing. As the team watches on, Bach glances over to Sotalia with twist in his smirk. “Holy shit, Sotalia. I think you accidentally started a turf war.”

Sotalia crosses her arms, darts her golden gaze around guiltily, and grimaces. “Well, fuck... I mean, how as I supposed to know?”

Cideeda cracks a sly, toothy grin, taps a claw tip on her lip, and directs her voice to Bach. “So, who’d you put your money on? I’m going with the whelps.”

Narrowing an unamused stare at the zone parrots in the standoff, Bach frown slightly and grumbles. “Have to go with the damned parrots. Mean little shits right there. And, they bite hard.”

Sebastian’s voice emanates from beneath the table. “Yeah. Birds are just mean in general.”

Aristespha blinks, glances under the table, and rolls her eyes at the visage of Sebastian hiding. As the zone parrots and whelps direct their displays of dominance to each other, their attention upon the prize wanes. From under the shade of nearby driftwood, a pair of dark eyes flit with a prismatic glow. A small rodent steps out, sits on its hind legs, and studies the strife. Perking its rounded sandy brown ears, it cleans its whiskers, and brushes its paws over its brown and tan face. Twitching a short black tinted tail, the critter digs its claws into the soft sand. The sun warms its coat of white, brown, and black stripes down it back, and a flicker of energy glows from its eyes.

The posturing continues between the colorful, loud zone parrots and the dramatic, hissing whelps. A flurry of speed leaves behind a trail of scattered sand and stops right next to the fried potato wedge. The rodent grabs the prize, stuffs the food into bulging cheek pouches, and glances between the two groups of animals. In the awkward silence, both parrots and whelps blankly puzzle at the new player. The rodent tears off in a full sprint, scatters a jet of sand behind, and zips down the beach at a blistering pace. The remaining critters exchange glances. An immediate, silent truce forms within the shared disrespect, and all take flight in a vain chase after the speeding thief.

Bach blinks in astonishment and glances around to the rest of the team. “What the hell was that?!”

Dretphi excitedly smiles and blurts out a phrase in grath. Sotalia tilts her head to the side and nods in a mix of agreement and disbelief. “Huh. Yeah, I guess so. I’ve never seen one myself.”

Aristespha, Bach, and Cideeda shift expectant stares to Dretphi. Sebastian’s voice sounds out from under the table. “So, uh, what is it?”

Opening her mouth, Dretphi thinks a moment, sorts through her thoughts, and grimaces. She tilts her head to the side and assembles an explanation. “I think the correct common term is... Sprint Munk? They are a species of chipmunk that can use magic to sprint fast.”

Sebastian’s ghostly form blinks blankly as he dissipates. “Huh. Yeah. That make sense. So, hotel?”

The team picks up their belonging, cleans the table off to the nearby garbage cans, and form up. As they exit the area, Bach inquires further to Dretphi. “So, I take it they steal food. Anything else about them?”

Dretphi perk her brow and smirks. “They favor shiny objects to decorate their burrows.”

Cideeda’s tail fur frays out reflexively as she shudders. “Now that’s just terrifying. Little thieves you can’t catch, that run off with your food and valuables.”

The sparse shade of overhead clouds drifts over the grass lot behind the two story house. A gentle breeze weaves between the trees of the nearby forest and leaves rustle in a gentle chorus. In the shadow of a tall oak, Trakenthin settles his large frame against the trunk at the base, glances his hazel eyes around, and searches suspect areas. After satisfying his paranoia, he brushes off a stray leaf from his short, dirty blonde hair, and pulls up his aetherphone screen close. The faint glow from the display lights up his dark bronze face, and he taps a browser bookmark. A smile grows as Trakenthin reads the stylized font title on the “Shayuri’s Study” page.

Nearby in the open area, Modoran picks up the finely crafted bow, nocks a practice arrow, and rolls his shoulders. Stepping up to a worn line in the grass, he levels the bow and arrow, contorts his dusky bluish gray face in contemplation, and draws a slow breath in. Pulling back the string, he aligns his aim with the distant target across the backyard and concentrates. When the faint flows of energy from his arm illuminate inscriptions, he releases the arrow. The projectile zips across the distance, and plants itself firmly into the center point of the round target. Tossing back his shorter, light gray and white hair, he grins confidently and straightens his athletic form.

Through the window and inside the kitchen, Deedri and Tassilda navigate around each other. Deedri pulls out large vials from carrying bags, inspects them with her auburn eyes, and lightly raps upon the glass with her claw tips. She perks her furry, tufted ears, and glances over her shoulder to Tassilda. “These should be completely inert now. There’s some trace amounts of flow binder in them.”

Tassilda turns her head of long, raven black hair, lifts her eye brow, and smirks. “Rinse and flush with a lot of water?”

With an appreciative smile, Deedri nods and presents the stopped tubes to Tassilda. “Correct. Thank you.”

Carefully, Tassilda grips onto the vials with her long, black nailed fingers, studies the remaining specks inside with her light blue on black eyes, and pivots towards the sink. “You are welcome. By the way, I’d really like your help in dispelling a few stale potions.”

Deedri cracks a smirk, and ties back her long multi-colored hair. “Of course. I’ve got ones that need neutralization and heat disposal. Bring them out when I get the crucible and fire pit ready.”

Tassilda dumps out a fill of water from a tube, guides the faucet over the drain, and sets the glass in a wooden drying rack. She washes off her gray hands in the stream of water, and promptly dries them in a towel. Lifting her head up, she corrals stray strands of her black hair over her swirling horns, and straightens her posture. “That works for me. I wish I could do more than watch the light show, but you far more skilled with that whole process.”

Deedri wags her tail, draws a sharp grin on her fair skinned face, and giggles. “It’s not problem.”

She glances around the room, steps close to Tassilda, and whispers with a guilty smirk. “I mean, it’s kind of fun for me. All the magic being broken free and released. It can be so exciting.”

Tassilda narrows a sly gazes upon Deedri, crosses her arms, and snickers. “I figured there was more behind that grin of yours. Might have you teach me... if it doesn’t deprive too much from your fun?”

Searching her mind briefly, Deedri rests her hands on her hips, smiles with an eager hint, and perks her furry, tufted ears. “I could spare a few lesser potions for educational reasons.”

From the living room, a loud advertisement cuts short into another channel on the large television. Veevi sneers her upper lip, slouches further back into the couch, and plops arm with the remote upon the cushion. She rolls her pink pupil eyes, tosses back her head of long pink hair, and groans out. Boredom and frustration tint the unamused expression on her tan face, and she briefly grits her sharp teeth. Her short haired, pink tail flicks around with her flits of irritation, and she huffs loudly into a stare at the show on screen.

The front door opens inwards, and Chad steps through. He closes the door, studies the living room with his brown eyes, and straightens his muscular frame upon spotting Veevi. Walking calmly, he steps up to the side of the coffee table, gazes down at Veevi, and separates a packet from the bundle of papers in his hands. He holds out the document to Veevi and pleasantly states. “Just got done talking to the producers. Here’s the initial draft of the scheduling for you.”

Veevi’s mean glare shifts to focus upon Chad. With a quick swipe of her sharp nails, she snatches the paperwork out of Chad’s hand, and growls. “Whatever. What stupid thing did you get us stuck doing this time?”

Chad summons his trademark bright, white smile, and directs a hushed tone to Veevi. “It took a little convincing... But, I managed to get you the front table all by yourself at all the photo and signing sessions.”

A spark of interest lights up Veevi’s mood. She quickly flips through the pages, sorts through the schedules, and studies the charts. An eager grin grows wide on her face, and she giggles excitedly. “Really?”

Chad stands up, and steps across the living room towards the dining area. As he clears through the archway, he twists his smile away into an uncomfortable grimace and shudders. He recollects himself, glances over to Deedri and Tassilda in the kitchen area, and points outside. “Deedri? Tassilda?”

Both Deedri and Tassilda look over, nod, and follow swiftly behind Chad. After the trio are outside, Chad slides the back glass door shut, and sighs loudly. “Gods. Okay.”

He walks over to the patio table, and lays out the packets upon the top from the bundle. He signals both Trakenthin and Modoran over when their curiosity guides their attention over. When the team gathers up, he eases out a breath and smirks. “These are the draft schedules for the fan meetup coming up. Take a good look at them. They were pretty adamant about them being set up this way.”

The group picks up their copies and sorts sifts through the information. Tassilda rests a free hand on her hip, and groans. “I had almost forgotten about this. Gods, it is coming up. Well, I guess one more won’t kill me.”

Modoran flips over a few pages to a schedule, and picks up a large bag of snacks. Idly fumbling with the thick plastic packaging, he squints his dark blue eyes and leans down to analyze the page closer. “The hell? It looks like they’ve got us running everywhere and split apart... a lot. I don’t know about this.”

Trakenthin frowns as he glares at the packet in his hand and grumbles. “Never split the party.”

While Modoran nods in agreement, he continues to struggle to find the right method to open the sealed bag. Deedri’s furry ears flick with the noise, and she watches the vain attempts. She gently squeezes Modoran’s forearm with her claw tips and waits with a sly smile up to him. Modoran blinks to attention and cocks his head to the side. Deedri grips on side of the plastic package, pokes a claw into the top, and slices open the bag. Modoran flits his eyes wide in surprise and smirks with a chuckle. He holds the bag open and presents the snacks to Deedri. After a few moment of deliberation, Deedri quickly snatches a handful, grins warmly to Modoran, and enjoys the treats.

Chad shakes his head at the scheduling and sighs. He cracks a sly grin, gazes over the rest of the team, and chuckles. “One good thing, though... I was able to convince the producers to give Veevi the front table all by herself at every possible photo and signing session. So, I think she’ll be distracted enough.”

Tassilda rubs the temple of her head and groans. “Oh, thank you. At least, we’ll have that going for us.”

Trakenthin nods and twists his mouth. “Good plan. Let the drama find her. Leave us out of it.”

Traces of color glow from the distant eastern, midnight horizon and flits of activity leave trails of light. Bach stares up into the starry night sky from the hotel balcony, and tilts his ear towards the background drone of waves echoing upon the city buildings. He eases out a long sigh, resettles in the padded metal chair, and twitches his face in silent contemplation. He closes his blue eyes, frowns slightly, and shakes his head slowly. “Damn...”

Phasing through the sliding glass door, Sebastian’s ghostly visage glances around. He floats into the middle the balcony and gazes over to Bach. “Mind if I join you, bro?”

Bach flutters his eyes open, tilts his head up, and nods. “Yeah. Sure. Just couldn’t sleep.”

Sebastian drifts into a disjointed seat on a nearby chair, tightly smiles, and hisses a reverberating sigh through his gritted teeth. “Yeah... A bit weird learning Isaac was just hanging out here recently.”

Shaking his head, Bach rubs his eyes and snorts with a smirk. “Pretty fucking wild that they were just sitting around watching him most of the time. He was just doing regular things. Like a normal person.”

Twisting his mouth, Sebastian grumbles and glances sideways towards Bach while surveying the cityscape. “No shit. Well, at least from what they told us, I don’t think he feels threatened or anything. Probably doesn’t even know we’re this close to him.”

Bach grits his teeth briefly, wrestles between uncomfortable expressions, and groans. “I think that’s for the best. To be honest brother... I really don’t want to run into him again.”

Sebastian gazes right at Bach, cracks an awkward smile, and sighs ethereally with stale frustration. “Me neither. Really. I’m so done with this chasing him around bullshit, bro.”

Blinking to fuller awareness, Bach cocks his head to the side and perks his brow. “Sounds like you’ve been done with this shit for a while?”

Sebastian rolls his blue transparent eyes, combs his hands through the brown tinted visage of his hair, and shakes his head exasperated. “Fuck me, bro. I wanted this all to be done when I had my showdown with him in Anta! Gods almighty! Magic sword, chosen one, and big bad guy. I supposed to strike him down, let the sword do its thing, and be done with it all.”

Bach nods, flits his eyes wide, and grumbles. “Then, he pulled that surprise power blast on you. And well, here we are.”

With a trailing groan, Sebastian mimics propping his elbows upon arms of the chair and rests his head on his hands. “Yeah. Well, to be honest, bro... He was holding back a lot more in reserve than I thought then. Should have been a lot more careful when getting close him.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Bach smiles and chuckles lightly. “Well. Hindsight and all. We’ll figure it out. We got a better option now than when we first started.”

Sebastian frowns regretfully. He gazes at Bach, sighs remorsefully, and attempts a smile. “Yeah. None of us we’re really thinking straight then. I was in a really fucked up head space. We were scrambling for a quick fix and I lead it all straight to you.”

Bach tilts his head to the side and smirks. “Well. As crazy as it all was, I’m glad you still saw me as some kind of viable option after all that time, and that I could actually help you.”

Smiling at his brother, Sebastian rolls his eyes at himself uncomfortably. “Still man, that was fucked up and disrespectful of us. Again, we were in no shape do much of anything and just running to anything that sounded remotely like a good plan. I should have been the one to hit the brakes and get us to just stop a while. So...”

He bows his head slightly. “Really... I apologize for how we just dragged into all of this. You’ve been far cooler about all this than anyone really should. Don’t know how I’d even handle it all if I was you.”

Shaking his head, Bach chuckles with a snort, and settles back into the balcony chair. “It’s cool. I mean, I didn’t much of plan for the shit I was in anyway. And... I don’t know if I’d do any better if I was in your position.”

He glances over to a thought in his mind, quirks his brow, and leans closer to Sebastian with a curious tone. “Speaking of which... Have you gotten, well, used to being a, um... Ghost, or projection?”

Sebastian sits up straighter, glances around his form, and uncertainly squirms. “I don’t know. I mean, I’ve learned how to use this better, but... I don’t know if I’m really used to it.”

He cocks his head to the side and contorts his ethereal face in contemplation. “It’s weird. I still feel like I’ve got a regular body and all. I’m constrained but not, all at the same time? I’m in the world but disconnected? Anyway, it’s pretty fucking freaky. Really looking forward to the day I don’t have to deal with it.”

Pausing in thought a moment, his ghostly visage shifts close to Bach, and he glances around briefly. “Speaking of which... I really think we should start looking into the other ways to get enough energy in this sword to hopefully get me out.”

Bach nods in agreement, and scratches the beard on his chin. “Yeah. Still have been thinking about that on and off. I got a few ideas about places to check narrowed down.”

Sebastian grins and gazes on with interest. “I figured you did, bro. We could totally stop by them while hunting for this place that Noxian wants. Perfect cover to keep all the big players happy that we’re making some progress.”

Searching his brain, Bach ponders out. “Plus, we’re also draining any resources that Isaac can recharge at. Which will hopefully make Sotalia happy that we’re not going after him.”

Rolling his eyes, Sebastian shakes his head and lifts an eyebrow at Bach. “Don’t worry about Sotalia. Once I’m out of the sword, I think she’ll care a lot less about Noxian. She blames herself for not blasting down Noxian a few more times just to make sure he didn’t have any surprises left.”

He draws in a ghostly breath and sighs long with an ethereal echo. “To be honest... If it wasn’t for the fact that Noxian has some clue about where this aether access point could be, I’d be ready to scheme our way out of this. Keep up appearances long enough to get me back to normal, and let someone else handle it.”

Bach leans back, cocks his head to side, and smirks intrigued. “Huh. What about the sword, the Grand Library, and Aristespha? Aren’t they all tied together?”

Sebastian snorts, shakes his head, and laughs. “Not really. Aristespha and I had been talking even before I got like this. Adventuring with us and being away from Grand Library, she wants to stay with us after this quest is done. And, she’s REALLY not been happy with the Grand Library after Orth Ridge. So, once I’m out and the sword gets returned, she's taking a very long sabbatical to run with us.”

Nodding at the plan, Bach smirks and sighs. “Sounds good. Fucking shame we need to make sure this aether access point isn’t a threat.”

Shaking his head, Sebastian groans and grumbles out. “Gods, no shit. But... We can’t very well leave it alone, bro. I just hope the thing is bunch of magical scrap and rubble when we find it. No threat, we walk away, and let Noxian wander aimlessly searching for nothing. Hell, clue all the big players to it. That’ll keep everyone so busy, they’ll probably forget about us for months.”

A genuine, hopeful smile appears on Bach’s face, and he perks a curious brow. “So, after we get all this fixed and right. What then? Simple missions? Ruin checks, scouting runs, and pest removal?”

Sebastian laughs, glances around in thought, and pauses to angle his ear to the background sea drone. “Something like that. But... First... I think a month long vacation in some remote resort is in order. Just not be accountable for anything for a weeks.”

Bach settles back into his seat, nods slowly, and sighs. “That sounds nice. A good plan to me.”

The brothers drift their gazes up to the skies, horizon, and surrounding city activity.

The blue all terrain vehicle rolls down the highway along patches of beaches, open fields, and mixes of coastal and deciduous forests. Isaac glances around the area as he navigates the empty stretch of paved road ahead, and squints at the morning sun in the east. As the truck rolls up a gentle sloop, he returns his attention ahead and peers over the crest of the hill. His gray eyes flit wide, and he furrows his brow. The stare on his face morphs into a stern glare, and he grimaces with a tightening grip on the steering wheel. Drawing his foot away from the accelerator, Isaac darts his attention between different points ahead and mumbles. “What. The. Hell?”

Two military armor personnel carriers roll up from the shoulder, and halt perpendicular to the road in a lane each. Once the vehicles stop, machine gun turrets pivot around and level barrels down the roadway. From hiding, a dozen soldiers rush out, drop prone behind low sandbag walls, and ready rifles. A flicker of white sparks in Noxian’s eyes, and an irritated frown warps his tan face. Applying the brake gradually, Noxian eases his vehicle to a stop twenty meters from the military blockade, and glares with gritting teeth at the GAA emblems reflecting in the morning light.

A woman’s voice echoes loudly into the area over multiple loudspeakers. “Driver! Turn off your vehicle and exit slowly with your hands up!”

Noxian slowly eyes either side of the road shoulder, and groans as flits of movement filter through the thick patches of trees surrounding. He aims his irritated glare ahead and studies the formation of mechanization and people. After the repeated announcement leaks into his cab, a sly smirk grows.

The engine dies. The driver’s side door opens. And, Isaac steps out slowly with his hands up. He draws in a large breath and yells out with an uncertain tone. “Uh, there must be a misunderstanding! I’m just traveling to Phis! I can turn around if there’s problem-”

Glaring around an APC, Sergeant Violet curls her upper lip into a sneer on her dark tan face, squints her dark blue eyes, and keys up the loudspeaker handset. “ISAAC KURT HUXLEY! Under the authority of the Greater Azure Alliance, you are to surrender yourself into our custody for crimes committed under the alias of The Dark Lord Noxian!”

The sly smirk fades from Isaac’s face and he releases a long sigh. As faint hints of odd relief vent from him, a bold, wild grin grows wide on his face. Noxian lowers his arms, cocks his head to the side, and laughs. “Well, well! Someone finally figured it out! I’m surprised it took you all this long? Did Sebastian Warwick’s team have to finally tell you? So pitiful this is the best the GAA has to offer me.”

Sergeant Violet grits her teeth, grumbles, and speaks respectfully into the microphone of her helmet radio. “Captain, I don’t think he’s going to surrender.”

Captain Hackle’s voice crackles out from her radio and faintly from other similar devices. “I did not expect he would. Still, let’s see how he wants to play this. Have your team at the ready, and we’ll be ready to assist.”

Sergeant Violet nods. “Affirmative.”

She shifts her attention back to Noxian’s thin frame standing out in the middle of the highway, and watches as the coastal breeze blows wispy white hairs and flutters the tail of a blue scarf. “Isaac Kurt Huxley, please-”

Noxian curls his upper lip, tilts his head back, and bellows out. “It’s The Dark Lord Noxian. Now! Can we please be done with this farce? I’d rather not cause any unneeded damage to government property. So, be smart... And, step aside!”

Sergeant Violet blinks blankly, cracks a mean smirk, and calls out through the loudspeakers. “Stand down, Dark Lord Noxian! You are to be taken alive... if you allow so.”

A white glow emanates from Noxian’s eyes, and he cackles loudly. “Obviously, you all have forgotten what I’m capable of!”

Leveling a determined glare ahead, a bold, manic grin widens on his face, and he straightens his posture while holding his arms to the side. “I think I can let loose a little. If only to remind you all...”

As flows of white miasma swirl around Noxian, a uniformed soldier near Sergeant Violet blinks her glowing eyes and yells out. “HE’S USING MAGIC!”

Sergeant Violet calls out over the radio. “TACKLER UNITS! ENGAGE!”

Large brush piles in the drainage ditches on both sides of the highway burst apart, and a pair of three meter tall humanoid mechs rush towards Noxian. Both spring across the paved surface, lead with large composite shields, and reach out with robotic hands open. Noxian stands confidently and glances between the incoming attackers. Both mechs clash shields first into an invisible force with a meter of Noxian, and force their free arms against the crackling white energies. From hiding spots within the surrounding brush, pairs of mages on each side of the quickly gesture out incantations, and direct flows of dispelling energy onto the transparent barrier.

Hints of strain shudder through Noxian’s frame, but the confidence within the grin surges. He casually examines large humanoid armor suits struggling against the surrounding field. Shaking head, he shifts his attention to four beams of magical energy barely leaving indentations. With his eyes radiating white miasma, conduits of elder energy weave through the barrier and intertwine with the incoming streams. The counteracting energy rips through the beams and travels back to their sources. Military mages attempt to cut off spells and dodge. The elder energy masses leap out, form into a webs mid-flight, and engulf the magic users. They tumble to the ground, and toss and turn against the binding threads of flow. Mages growl and scream out frustration and rage.

Sergeant Violet calls out through the radio. “Status report!?”

A voice grumbles through the static crackles. “We’re unharmed, but bound up and something is disrupting magical flow!”

Another voice hisses. “Dammit! We’re stuck to the ground somehow!”

Noxian lifts his arms out and flicks his wrists to the pair of humanoid mechs at his sides. The barrier swells out surges of transparent white energy, and the translucent masses envelop the machines in a thick coat. Both robotic suited soldiers stumble back and attempt to ready themselves. As the moments pass, their movements slow and the energy soup thickens. With an amused grin, Noxian mockingly snaps his fingers. Energy seeps into the joints of the machines. Flashes of bright heat erupt along with a chaotic display of sparks and plumes of smoke. The thick blobs of energy retract from the mechs and rejoin the protective bubble around Noxian. The humanoid suits remain still. With a flourish, Noxian lightly waves his hands out. Both mech tilt slightly off balance, tip far from their centers of mass, and fall. With heavy thuds, a livid voice cracks out over speakers. “What the fuck did you do, you bastard!”

Another angry voice call out over the radio. “I'm seized up! I can’t move.”

Noxian smirks as he glares down at the disable robotic suits, and calmly pushes them off the road with slow motions of his arms. Metal grinds against pavement until the mechs reach the rough shoulders. With a final invisible push, the machines roll over and flop back into the debris they charged from.

Noxian sighs with sinister relief, levels his gaze ahead, and steps forward. Sergeant Violet blinks in utter astonishment, keys up the loudspeaker, and commands. “OPEN FIRE!”

A chaotic cacophony of reports, energy discharges, and spell crackles flood the air and squelch any other sound. Noxian continues to walk forward. Rifle rounds plant themselves into the thickening translucent barrier and sink uselessly onto the asphalt. Laser beams diffuse into harmless reflections of light. Plasma bolts burst into fleeting dents in the rippling mass of elder magic. Electromagnetic rails rounds splash into the vicious field, slow down in the warping energy, and halt impotently mid air. Different beams, balls, and arcs of spell energy dissipate into the forceful undercurrent of elder flow beyond the surface of the barrier.

Noxian closes the distance, and aims a glowing white eyed stare upon the soldiers behind the sandbags. Thrusting his arms forward, cables of energy launch out. They thread through the air, find targets, and ensnare them in solidified energy nets. Tendrils of flow sink into weaponry and render systems useless. Another squad from behind the armor personnel carriers, rushes out, and release unyielding barrages of a suppression fire. Noxian halts his progress, analyzes the new threats, and systematically subdues them in careful and pacifying manners. While attacks fail, weapons jam, and soldiers are harmlessly bound, Specialist Thayal climbs up from inside the APC into the turret seat. He primes the machine gun, tilts his aim towards Noxian, and ponders briefly. Noxian meets Thayal’s gaze.

Specialist Thayal grimaces uncomfortably, shifts his green eyed glare behind Noxian, and smirks with determination. “Let’s see how protected your ride is.”

He turns the mount, pitches up the barrel, and engages the trigger. Noxian’s gray eyes flash white in surprise. The heavy cannon round cuts through the air near Noxian and flies straight at the engine block of the blue all terrain vehicle. The round manages to press into the steel of the hood before it freezes immediately within a solid bubble of white, arch energy. Each subsequent projectile freezes further and further from the target after each explosive thump from the gun. Specialist Thayal releases the trigger, notices the magical effects suspending the rounds mid air. He visibly pales as he faces Noxian.

Pushing away the surge of anger, an amused smirk emerges and Noxian nods respectfully to Specialist Thayal. “Not a bad plan. But, this isn’t the first time someone has tried to shoot something important from behind me.”

A wave of energies splash upon the armor personnel carrier from the bubble around Noxian. Specialist Thayal drifts upwards away from the APC. He floats upside down a distance until he’s underneath a tree. Magical netting forms upon his body with a suspending cord around a branch. Moments later, he dangles with a light sway, upside down, and blinks between confusion and fright.

Noxian holds his hands out to the military vehicles blocking the roadway. Elder energy surges from him, radiates out, and collects upon the machines. They levitate up, slowly flip over, and float to the drainage ditches parallel to the path. Both drop down into the valleys and press into the soft soil.

Sergeant Violet remains standing, and trains her pistol at Noxian. She keeps her distance and watches him carefully. Noxian cooly turns his head to stare at Sergeant Violet and sighs disgustedly. “You really think that’s going to do anything?”

He shakes his head at the determined officer and groans out annoyance. “Can I leave now? I have places to be and I’d rather not have to expend anymore of myself for such trivial efforts.”

Sergeant Violet starts to open her mouth when Captain Hackle’s voice sounds out over the radio. “Let him through. Stand down, Sergeant Violet. There’s no need to complicate things anymore.”

Working through the awkward moment, Sergeant Violet lowers her pistol, steps cautiously away from Noxian to the road shoulder, and waits. Noxian smiles appreciatively, pivots around, and walks to his vehicle calmly.

On a nearby hill, Captain Hackle frowns and groans as he rests a pair of binoculars down on the ground near him. He pinches the bridge of his nose, hisses frustration through his teeth, and shakes his head. Tense minutes later, the blue all terrain vehicle rolls down the highway. Captain Hackle stares out distantly and twists his mouth. He keys up his radio and commands. “Sergeant Violet, I’m sending the rest of the team to aid you in freeing our personnel and equipment. Please, assist with what you can and find me afterwards. I’ll need your assistance in writing a situation report and updating relevant parties. Certain... variables... have changed.”

Sergeant Violet’s voice rises above the static. “Yes, Captain. I... have to agree.”

Sebastian quickly phases through the hotel wall and lands near Bach. “Bro! Stay right here! Aristespha is bringing the sword to you.”

Bach blinks his eyes, glances around, and mutters. “Uh, okay? What’s happening?”

A beep sounds out from the keycard reader, and Aristespha rushes in through the room door. She draws out the Sword of the Spirit Realm, and presents the handle to Bach. “Sebastian thinks he’s detected elder energy activity. You might be able to help him by using the sword.”

Bach widens his gaze, quickly takes the sword from Aristespha, and grips onto the handle tightly. He closes his eyes and concentrates. After a grimace on his face and a shudder down his body, he reopens his glowing blue eyes. He stands up from his seat on the single bed, and holds the sword at the ready. Both Sebastian and Bach search their minds, contort their faces indecisively, and wander their gazes distantly around the room. Seconds later, Bach halts an aimless pivot and aims the tip of the blade northwards. “Whoa... I’m feeling... A LOT of elder energy released, northwards. It’s hard to sense how far exactly, but if we’re feeling just left overs...”

Sebastian’s ethereal form scratches the back of his head, and grimaces. “For the sword to detect it without your assistance, it had to have been a lot... And-”

Both Bach and Sebastian stiffen their postures and visibly cringe as recognition shocks them.