Episode 108

Bach rocks with the humvee while his head rests against the window. Noon sun warms the cab and the white streak in his longer brown hair glints with other hidden gray hairs. A quiet snore trails out with his breaths, and the hint of twitch tenses his cheek. Sotalia notices road sign ahead and squints. Seconds later, she reads and glances over to Cideeda. “Not bad time so far.”

Cideeda smirks with perk of her brow and flexes her claw tips upon the steering wheel. “Yeah. I’m not really pushing it right now. I haven’t had a chance to really check everything and don’t want to risk it.”

Tilting her head curiously to the side, Sotalia narrows her golden eyes with a grimace. “The humvee has been running just fine so far. Even after all the offroading.”

Settling in her seat, Cideeda twists her mouth uneasily and shifts her emerald green eyes towards Sotalia. “Yeah. But, it’s still old and I don’t want to give Murphy a chance.”

Her furry ears droop and a canine slips into her frown. “I’ll feel better once I have few days to check everything.”

She sighs and utters a fvalian phrase. Sotalia lifts an intrigued brow, cocks her head, and crosses her arms. “The more attention you pay, the bigger the bribe to Murphy? Why is it that fvalian colloquialisms always seem to be appeasing some avatar of misfortune?”

A toothy grin grows on Cideeda’s light brown face, and she chuckles. “Simple. Appease them when you are fortunate, then they don’t have a reason to remind you with misfortune.”

Sotalia rolls her eyes playfully dismissive and gazes out her passenger’s side window into the denser patches of forest and rolling green hills. Staring out into the distance, her black nailed finger presses a button and the window slowly rolls down. A constant rush of air blows back her fiery orange, wavy hair around, and a smile widens towards the gray patches under her pointed tip ears. The gust blasts back into Bach’s face and he flutters his blue eyes. While Sotalia basks the warm air, Bach quickly recovers conscious and glances around to remind him of his surroundings. Flicking her finger the other direction, the window rolls up and Sotalia settles back into her seat. “Well, it actually is not scorching hot out. I think we timed the trip to Perimeter perfectly. Coming back right before the October weather starts.”

Aristespha shifts her gaze up, blinks slowly, and refocuses her violet eyes away from the screen of her tablet. She shudders her head and sighs. “We will probably be out and enjoying it. Most of the possible places we could visit are far of into the wilderness.”

Bach awakens fully, stretches out in his seat, and quirks a curious stare at Aristespha. “Any more ideas for the plan right now?”

Tilting her tablet upon her stomach, she raps her ivory, blue and gray hinted fingers on the back of the device. “Well, I’d like to focus on trying to contact Marcus Harold. I hope my message got to him. But, depending on where he is right now, he might not be able to use a phone or send mail.”

Furrowing his brow, Bach tugs at the corner of his mouth and tilts his head to the side. “So, how else can he reach us? I mean, he’s got some magic. But, we don’t have a magic circle for him to send the spirit after.”

Granting an understanding nod, Aristespha smiles reassuringly and shrugs her shoulders. “I’m certain he has his ways. If he can’t manage to reach us through the means I’ve dictated, we can put together a circle and send the information for him to use, if we can summon the right spirit.”

She grits her teeth briefly and glances over to Bach. “Hopefully, it won’t require anymore unexpected payments.”

Bach rolls his blue eyes and shakes his head. “It’s fine. A small price to pay to hopefully save us a lot of trouble.”

With a few slow nods, Aristespha rubs the temple of her head and groans. “I hope so. Just looking at the distances to reach all these different places is intimidating enough.”

From the back bench seat, Dretphi rolls her head over on a stack of pillows and glances away from her graphic novel. “Logistics are daunting. A few locations is feasible with time. Becomes untenable after that point. We need to be... Very selective.”

Cideeda’s furry ear perks back from listening to Dretphi and glances into the conversation through the rear mirror. “Yeah. Even with Noxian starting out on in the wrong spots, he’d eventually beat us just by picking randomly. I don’t want to chance it by being too exhaustive.”

Sotalia twists an irritated curl in her frown, cranes her head around the seat, and gazes between the team with her golden eyes. “So, we need to go back through everything and figure out what we could have missed?”

Materializing in the aisle, Sebastian’s ethereal form sit disjointedly upon the cab floor, and he ponders out loud. “Actually, more along the lines of what we ruled out based on the wrong assumptions. I’ve been thinking about it and we’ll need churn through all our notes...”

He squints his transparent blue eyes and searches inside his own mind. “I’m getting the feeling we have filtered a lot of possibilities, that now make sense to be suspect of.”

Aristespha stiffens her lip and blows out a sigh. “That’s a lot of notes to go through.”

Sebastian gazes up lovingly at Aristespha with a grin. “Well, dear, let’s hope your friend Marcus Harold can help.”

The humvee rolls up to the road outlet in front of a ranch style house and slows to turn down the gravel driveway. Rolling to a stop a few meters from the garage doors, the powerplant of the vehicle spins down and the faint whine gives way to the morning background. Humvee doors open and the team exits eagerly. Sotalia springs out of her seat, stretches her arms out, and sighs in relief. “This is so much better than trying to push ourselves to get back yesterday. I feel ready to do something today!”

Bach pulls the lever on the side of his seat and slides it forward. He steps off to the side as Dretphi pulls herself through the opening from the back bench seat and gazes out into the front yard. Slowly scanning the very tall grass, he notices the flurry of different insects between the overgrown plant life and directs his voice through the cab of the humvee to Cideeda. “Hey, Cideeda? You might need to get that kid to come by and handle the grass.”

Cideeda walks along the edge of the gravel drive, reaches her arm out to the taller stalks of weeds, and compares the height to her own. She grimaces, rests her hands on her hips, and flicks her long tail. “Yeah. I didn’t think it’d grow THAT fast.”

Examining a few of the different leaves within the burgeoning brush, Dretphi narrows her steely gray eyes and perks her brow. “This area had significant rain.”

Shrugging her shoulders, Cideeda holds her clawed hands up. She pops up on her toes and clicks a remote clipped to the sun visor. “I’ll see if Dace wants to make some money...”

Underneath the drone of the garage door opening, an entrepreneurial, toothy grin creeps out onto Cideeda’s light brown face and she taps her finger tips together. “Or maybe a trade of a few trinkets we found.”

From behind, Aristespha crosses her arms and shakes her head of long silvery, blue hair. “Oh for gods sake, just pay him. He’s going to be earning it this time around.”

With a faint hint of resignation, Cideeda gazes up to Aristespha with a huff and twists the corner of her mouth. “Fine. You’re right.”

Stepping away from Aristespha, she goes through a few different arm stretches and quips back. “I’ll see if he’s interested in buying some trinkets after I pay him.”

Sebastian’s disapproving voice sounds out from the sword at Aristespha side. “Really?”

Fluffing her fiery orange, wavy hair, Sotalia combs it over her black, swept back horns and arches her back while walking through the garage. She steps up the few stairs to the door and opens it into the kitchen. “Thank the gods. Finally back!”

She focuses her attention to the fridge, walks over, and sweeps the door open. “If I remember right... Yes!”

With a close of the door, she shakes up a mocha colored drink in a glass bottle with an elaborate logo. Peeking out at the rest of the team wandering out, she shakes the sealed beverage and grins. “I was right, Aristespha! We still have a pack in the fridge!”

Aristespha smiles with growing satisfaction and relaxes her shoulders. “Oh good. I could use some coffee. I don’t think we have anything else right now.”

Pausing in thought, Dretphi searches her mind and plays with the darker end of one of her platinum blonde braids. “Nothing perishable. I made sure before we left.”

When Aristespha gets close, Sotalia twists the cap with a loud pop of the seal and smirks mischievously. Aristespha grins with twitch of very long, pointed ears. “Sounds so good.”

Sotalia pivots around, pours back the beverage into her mouth, and hums out her agreement. She steps into the living area just next to the dining table and glances to the center of the room. Her golden eyes widen. A startled breath launches cold brewed coffee out her nose and she coughs out the rest. She backs away as the rest of the team notices her struggle. Quickly, she clears out enough to yell. “THAT SPIRIT IS HERE!”

Standing slowly up from the middle of the living area floor, the ethereal form of a man in older period armor searches between the Sotalia, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sebastian. A faint smile appears on his translucent face and he grants Bach a respectful nod. His gaze settles upon Aristespha and he straightens his posture with formal greeting. “Aristespha. I am here to deliver a message from Marcus Harold. Do you accept?”

Aristespha blinks her violet eyes blankly, shudders back to awareness, and nods eagerly. “Oh, yes! Of course. Allow me to locate some destination transcription materials.”

She glances around the kitchen, furrows her brow, and steps towards the dining table. Passing a roll of paper towels to Sotalia, Bach inquires while glancing briefly into the garage. “What do you need, Aristespha?”

Aristespha quickly scans around the area and frowns. “Need some acceptable media for him to transcribe the message onto. Um, do we have any more paper?”

Cideeda’s emerald green eyes perk and she swiftly navigates around the crowd into the hallway. “The office printer has some we can steal. Be right back.”

Sotalia winces and contorts her face as she cleans herself off. Bach pulls off more sheets of paper towel and keeps them at the ready while Sotalia recovers her composure. Plucking the offering from Bach’s hands, Sotalia blows her nose and sputters out a few words during a cough. “Right up my nose! I almost breathed it in. Ungh.”

From the garage, Dretphi steps in with a towel and places in it in the waiting hands of Sotalia. Wiping her tan and gray face, Sotalia drags the towel down, holds it tightly to her shirt, and breathes out. “Thank you.”

Cideeda exits out the archway leading to the hall, rushes over to Aristespha, and gives her a stack of printer paper. “Hope this will work.”

Aristespha sets the paper upon the dining table, taps her finger to the top, and gazes at the messenger spirit. “Would this be acceptable?”

The entity steps forward, looks over the stack, and nods. “Yes.”

Hovering its ethereal hand over the printer paper, flows of energy swirl out and coat the sheets. The magical soaks into the pile. Letters appears on the top page with faint signs of further information darkening below. The flows thread through a good portion of the stack and halt near the bottom. Moments later, the last traces of magic dissipate in fading miasma.

The messenger spirit steps back and bows politely to Aristespha. “The message has been delivered.”

His form gradually disappears until his faintest outline blends into the background light.

Aristespha stares the stack of inscribed printer paper and puzzles a moment. Cideeda crosses her arms, perks her furry ears, and wags her tail expectantly. “So, what does it say?”

Snapping out of her moment of pondering, she pulls a chair out from the table, sits down, and inspects the first few pages. Her violet eyes trace the words on the page and delighted smile appears on her ivory face. “It is from Marcus, and he’d be happy to help us!”

Sebastian’s ethereal form warily drifts past the last spot the messenger spirit was at and turns around to peek over Aristespha shoulder. “That’s great news, dear. Kind of surprised he was able to send a message here?”

Pausing a moment from reading, Aristespha glances up to Sebastian and smiles. “I’m a bit surprised, too, Sebastian. I did give him our address here. So, he must have figured out how to translate that to some means for the spirit to know where to go... I guess?”

She hides her embarrassment with a smirk and chuckles awkwardly. “I’m not the best at druid spells. I’m not familiar with how to direct messenger spirits outside of using circles and other arcane beacons. But, Marcus is extremely skilled. And, he knows quite a few spells that I don’t even think the Grand Library has on file.”

Resuming reading the pages in front of her, she comments while flipping through. “That’s not even factoring in the amazing relationships he has with a lot of very powerful spirit entities. There are a few that are quite intelligent and are versed in how our world works.”

Her train of thought drifts into understanding the message. Sotalia recomposes herself, glances over to the open coffee bottle, and picks it up. Holding a moment, she carefully drinks a little and enjoys it properly. After a sigh, she glances down and scrunches her face in swelling discomfort. “Yuck. It’s getting sticky now. I think it soaked through.”

She grabs the bottom of her shirt and begins to pull it over her head. Bach feigns nonchalant and quietly pivots his gaze away. Removing her shirt, Sotalia checks her bra and sighs. “Oh good, just the shirt for most part.”

Dretphi holds out her hand with an unamused glare and Sotalia gives the shirt to her. Sotalia hangs the towel from her neck and walks around the dining table to the hallway. “Well, guess I’m using the shower first.”

Cideeda directs her voice to Sotalia. “Run it a little first. Pipes might have some build up.”

With a quick thumbs up, Sotalia walks down the hall. Aristespha takes break from reading and glances around at the rest of the team. “This is really good. He’d like to talk to everyone and he’s given me the diagrams to setup a commune conduit circle to his.”

Wrestling his confusion, Sebastian twists his mouth curiously. “What is a commune conduit circle, dear?”

Aristespha searches her mind and ponders out loud. “It’s a direct line of communication between two points. They’re very intricate and involved, but it allows audio and visual communication over long distances.”

Cideeda quirks her brow and shifts her weight with a flick of a furry ear. “So, like an aetherphone?”

Mulling over the comparison, Aristespha rocks her head side to side and shrugs faintly. “Similar. But, it’s between to points that are hard coded. You can setup a main circle and remote circles, but it is still not very flexible in that regard.”

She skims over the page again and smiles happily. “He says the best time to contact him is at night after dinner when he’s usually star gazing. He’ll keep his end charged to detect if we call him.”

Cideeda grins with interest and steps up to the table next to Aristespha. “So, are we going to make another one of those magical circles, like we did for that messenger spirit?”

Dretphi walks over with Bach and she eagerly looks at the stack of paper with a smile. “I think we can help.”

Aristespha flips to the next page and chuckles. “Good, I probably will need a little help with it. We just might be able to get it set up tonight...”

Furrowing her brow, she narrows an examining stare upon the section of intricate diagrams. She turns to the next page, and then the next. Pinching a few, she lifts up the section and finds more illustrations with her widening violet eyes. Lowering the paper, she neatly stacks the thick documentation in order and bites her lip. “Maybe tomorrow night. This one is very involved...”

She gazes around the team and smiles appreciatively. “And, I’m going to need some help, please?”

Cideeda pats Aristespha on the back and grins toothily. “Why not? That last one was fun to put together and we got some results.”

A little squirm of excitement travels through Dretphi, and she nods quickly with glee. “Yes! Would like to see what this does.”

Bach shrugs his shoulders and smirks nonchalantly. “Sure. I’ll try to keep up. To be honest, it’s a lot more memorization than I’m used to.”

Aristespha nods and eyes the stack of paper in front of her with a sigh. “Yes. Again, that’s why I didn’t get too specialized in this aspect of magic. Very powerful, but the preparation...”

Slowly combing her fingers through her damp hair, Sotalia glances around her room and the open travel bags on her bed. She pauses in thought, idly feels her black swept back horns, and hums to herself. Her gaze settles upon a number of magical trinkets set off to the side and a slight grin appears from the corner of her mouth. Stepping over to the side of the bed, she kneels down to the floor and reaches underneath. Fumbling around, she grips onto something and slides it out. She gazes down at the finely crafted wooden box and smiles with a tint of excitement. She gestures a quick incantation and lifts the lid. She stops and furrows her brow suspiciously. Narrowing her stare, she cautiously feels the exterior of the wooden box and cocks her head. She puzzles while opening the lid expectantly. After moments of waiting for a desired result, she frowns and leans down to inspect the box closer.

She meticulously plucks out items, sets the them aside, and inventories them. Noticing the unfamiliar arrangement inside, her attention focuses upon the remaining contents. Her gaze sorts between a golden disc, coil of magical cable, blue and green woven harness, jar of golden shards, translucent green plate, spoon, and other trinkets of magical nature. Sotalia picks up a bundle of cloth, opens it up, and stares at the lingering stretch of the fabric. Feeling the impression of a missing item, her golden eyes widen and she glances around the room surprised. After a few moments, she lays prone on the ground and peers underneath the bed. Partially sliding under, she rummages around the space, pushes aside stray garments, and stirs up dust. She snorts out her growing irritation, and squeezes herself back out.

Standing up, she pans a slow stare of her room. She pauses her briefly search at recesses and corners. Glancing down at her feet, her frustrated glare rests upon the box and her toes curl into the carpet. Worry subdues her irritation, and she patrols around the room. Peering behind furniture, she raps her long, black nails against the surfaces while her brow quirks at the lack of success. Circling the room once, she gazes at the her collection near the bed and kneels down next to it. Picking up each item, she meticulously inspects it and hunts for any differences. Her confusion grows with each fully recognizable item, while each expected defect sates her familiarity. Sitting down on the floor fully, she pulls up her knees, wraps her arms her around, and rest her chin on top. Her golden eyes sort through her mind and she mumbles quietly to herself. “It was there... The cloth is still there... But... My lock spell...”

Her attention darts over to the finely crafted wooden box and she twists her mouth uncertainly. She stares long at the windows to her room, and drags her focus around the edges and the engaged lock on each. With a loud sigh, she gets up on her feet, sweeps up the box, and walks out of the room. Stepping down the hallway, she turns out through the archway into the living area. She spots Aristespha sorting through diagrams at the dining table and Bach watching a grath drama on the television. Bouncing her attention between the two, she holds up the empty, finely crafted wooden box and hems. “Okay. I’ve got a magical mystery and I can’t figure it out.”

Aristespha blinks back to awareness, pulls herself away from the task, and rubs her violet eyes. “Okay. I could use a break. What is it?”

Fumbling with the remote, Bach hits the pause button and glances over. “Yeah, sure. I need a moment from this plot.”

Wrestling a mix of irritation and dismay, Sotalia grits her teeth and sighs. “I just found my collection box without its lock spell and something is missing.”

Aristespha slips out of her chair and curiously steps over. “Wait, say that again?”

Noticing the box in Sotalia’s hand, Bach stands up from the couch and walks over. “Okay...”

Sotalia twist her mouth and motions to the box in her hands. “I know it sounds strange. I usually put a lock spell on the box to prevent anyone but me from opening it. But, for some reason, it’s didn’t react when I cast the unlock. And, I can’t feel it on here anymore.”

Aristespha and Bach exchange intrigued glances and both blink their eyes to a magical glow. Both squint. Bach rubs his eyes and refocuses his stare. “Wow, okay. So, this is the box you hide all your stuff in.”

Sotalia smirks at Bach and groans with a hint of embarrassment. “Yes.”

Bach nods and leans his head back. “Okay, that explains a lot of the of magical traces upon it. There’s just a bunch of different types mixing together. Really hard to sort through.”

Aristespha’s glowing violet eyes trace the outline of the box and she points out a section. “There’s still hint of the lock spell on the box, but it’s has been... Dispelled?”

Nodding in agreement, Bach taps a spot next the latch for the chest. “Yeah. That looks like dispelling.”

Cocking her head to the side, Aristespha frowns curiously and perks her eyebrow. “It looks like it was disrupted a few weeks ago?”

Bach crosses his arms and slowly shakes his head. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Sotalia huffs and contorts worry and suspicion on her face. “I KNOW. We were all gone. Now I’m just paranoid that someone has broken in, and I’d like someone to tell me otherwise. Because, something was missing from the box.”

Furrowing his brow, Bach gazes at Sotalia and blinks his glowing blue eyes. “What’s missing?”

Twisting her mouth, Sotalia sighs sadly. “It was one of the crystals from the big cave excavation site where we fought that dire wolf golem. It was small, blue and had a faint glow. It was in my pouches when you saved me.”

A humble smile graces Bach’s tan face, and he pats Sotalia’s shoulder comfortingly. “Well, it’s not like we can’t get more.”

Aristespha quirks her brow and ponders out loud. “Was it a proper golem crystal or a raw one?”

Sotalia’s golden eyes search mind and she settles upon a conclusion. “Raw, I think, if I remember right.”

Bach glances over to Aristespha and shrugs. “It may have broken down and done something weird?”

Straightening her posture, Aristespha crosses her arms and rocks her head side to side indecisively. “Maybe. If it had gathered some residual charge from the environment and wasn’t stabilized, the energies could have reacted.”

Sotalia grimaces and searches between Aristespha and Bach. “But, wouldn’t it have left some traces behind? I can’t find any part of it and nothing else was damaged.”

Bach scratches the back of his head of longer brown hair, and grimaces awkwardly. “Uh, well, it all depends on how the magical energies reacted and what effect transpired.”

From the kitchen, Sebastian phases through the door leading to the garage. “They’re back from the store!”

He floats into living area and notices the gathering. “What’s going on?”

Aristespha glances over her shoulder and frowns her concern. “Sotalia is missing something from her collection and the spell that protected it seems to have been dispelled.”

Sebastian’s visage hovers in place and he puzzles the situation. “That’s weird. Wandering around the property, I haven't noticed anything unsual.”

Cideeda opens the door with a shopping bag in tow and clears the way. Dretphi side steps in with her arm muscle definition showing as she carries the heavy loads of groceries. Both settle the bags upon the floor and notice the meeting of the mages. Cideeda perks her furry ears and wags her tail. “What’s this discussion about?”

Dretphi stands up straight and rests her hands on her hips. “Did something happen?”

Sotalia releases a flustered sigh and tries to maintain a smile. “Somehow the magical lock on my collection box got dispelled and something is missing. I’m hoping it’s just some magical weirdness and not some other reason.”

Cideeda perks an eyebrow, narrows her emerald green eyed gaze at Sotalia, and sarcastically theorizes. “Like some master thief broke in, somehow found your collection of magical trinkets, and decided that was the one thing they were going to steal? Then, put everything back, left, and locked everything back up afterwards?”

Rolling her golden eyes, Sotalia tosses back her fiery orange, wavy hair and groans out with a trailing laugh. “Yeah. I know, girl. That’s absolutely fucking ridiculous to think. Gods, just my paranoia trying to get the best of me. This is just so weird.”

Cideeda shrugs her shoulder, flicks her tail, and tilts her head of short, multi-color hair. “If it’s any comfort, everything was locked tight and undisturbed when I checked. Even the wooden plank was still blocking the sliding glass door.”

Narrowing her steely gray eyes, Dretphi ponders and idly strokes her platinum braids. She slowly shakes her head and presents a comforting smile to Sotalia. “Our supplies are still here. Garage was as I remembered. Nothing was disturbed in my room.”

Sebastian glances around at the team and quirks his brow. “So, nothing else missing for anyone else?”

Aristespha, Bach, and Cideeda shake their heads. Sebastian shrugs at Sotalia. “I got nothing then. I'm sorry.”

Noticing the dissatisfaction on Sotalia’s face, Aristespha rubs Sotalia’s back and comforts her. “If it was breaking down, it could have a done a number of things. Crystals are often used for phasing to aspects of the aether... Which can sometimes lead them to transposing themselves into the aether.”

Bach grits his teeth briefly and laughs nervously. “Sounds like it left before it had a chance to do any damage, then. That probably was for the best then.”

Aristespha lifts her eyebrow and directs a tone filled with stale aggravation to Sotalia. “Need I remind of you of the magic bag of holding?”

A visible cringe spreads across Sotalia face and she shudders uncomfortably. She closes up the finely crafted wooden box, balances it upon the nearby couch arm, and arrives to acceptance. “THAT is a very good point. I’ll just consider myself very lucky that I still have everything else.”

Sebastian nods and reassuringly smiles at Sotalia. “We’ll be exploring plenty of more strange places soon enough. And I’m certain, we can help you acquire a few more things.”

A warm, thankful smile grows on Sotalia’s face and she bows her head down. “Thank you. Just was thinking of the worst for whatever reason.”

Aristespha pats Sotalia on the back and warns with a tight smirk. “But, I would really start vetting items before putting them with others in the future. A little isolation goes a long way to protect artifact integrity, from my experience in the archives.”

Bach ponders a moment and slowly nods. “Yeah. I think I could probably shape a few containers that could protect against some breakdown effects. If nothing else, at least give you some kind of warning.”

A grin widens on Sotalia and she gazes at Bach with intrigue curling the corners of her mouth. “Really? Well, let me think of the sizes I’ll need.”

From the corner of the back yard of the two story house, Modoran glances around and squints to the field diagonal from him. He watches activity in the distance and smirks. He turns to his side, gazes down at Deedri, and smiles. “They’re back. I thought I saw the lights on from my bedroom window last night.”

With a quick nod, Deedri shows her aetherphone screen to Modoran and aims her whisper up. “I know. Aristespha messaged me yesterday.”

She flutters her auburn eyes, perks up her furry, tufted ears, and sways hopefully. “I’d like to sneak away from the cameras and talk to her in the forest to catch up. Do you think you could help me do that tomorrow?”

Modoran gazes his dark blue eyes into Deedri’s and smiles lovingly. “Of course. It’ll be the last chance before we’re stuck at the fan meet up for the weekend.”

A message chime rings out from Deedri’s phone. She taps through the screen and groans with a droop of her furry ears. “Great. I’m up for the video journal segment. Gods, I hate these.”

She glances down at her original, thematic outfit, brushes off the dress, and reluctantly adjusts the bell on her collar. “I just hope they don’t want that many takes. I can’t wait to take this thing off.”

Modoran quickly darts his gaze around to the suspicious spots within line of sight. With quick motions he gestures out an incantation, and directs an obscuring barrier up behind him and Deedri. With a sly smirk on his dusky bluish gray face, he leans close to Deedri and whispers. “If you need help with that, just let me know.”

Deedri perks her brow and smiles with a suggestive curl. “Well. How are your shoulders feeling from all that practice with your bow?”

Drawing close to Deedri’s fair toned face, Modoran rolls his eyes and chuckles. “Little sore. Could stand to have it looked at closely by a medical professional like you.”

Slipping a hand around the back of Modoran’s neck, Deedri guides Modoran and both share a kiss. Parting lips, Modoran winks a Deedri with a grin. “A little encouragement to get you through.”

His dark blue eyes flit wide and a goofy smirk twists his mouth. Deedri releases her light claw tip clasp of the back of his pants and winks to him. “A little reminder for your checkup.”

Modoran stands up straight, works his expression down to a nonchalant neutral, and gestures with his hand. “I won’t miss it. The illusion will be down in... Three, two, one...”

The obscuring barrier behind gradually fades as Deedri assumes her prior pose and departs with a cheery step. She passes by the patio table and comments. “Get ready to be called next. I’m going in.”

Both Trakenthin and Tassilda nod as Deedri slips in through the sliding glass door. Tassilda brings her schedule paperwork next to Trakenthin’s and narrows her light blue on black eyes at the information. She slowly shakes her head, pulls back her raven black hair over her swirling horns, and frowns. “This isn’t a big expo, but they’ve somehow got everything scattered around. This make no sense.”

Trakenthin curls a disapproving sneer on his upper lip and growls faintly. “There is a purpose. Do not know what. That bothers me.”

He runs his hand through his short, styled, dirty blonde hair and cracks a hint of amusement at the corner of his mouth. “One benefit I see...”

Tapping upon a schedule block, he glides his finger down the list of tasks for Veevi and points out the locations. “She stays in the same areas.”

Tassilda contorts her gray face and nods in agreement. “That is true. At least we are afforded that luxury.”

Her eyes notice a pattern and she frowns with a sad sigh. “Poor Chad, he’s stuck with her the most. He did pull through for us.”

Lifting an eyebrow, she raps her thick, long, black nails upon the patio table top and ponders out loud. “I wonder if he’s a fan any Emin liquors. If this all works out, I think he deserves that much.”

Trakenthin nods and visibly mulls over the schedule on his dark bronze face. “Yes. This will be challenging.”

The glass door opens. Chad steps out stiffly, carefully slides the door closed behind him, and seals it quietly. Stepping forward rigidly, Chad stands next to the table with Trakenthin and Tassilda, and glances between them with a tight smile. Inside the dining area, Veevi marches right up to Samantha. With an accusatory point, Veevi yells and Samantha responds similarly. The argument between the two seeps out through the sliding glass door and muffled peaks of the exchange fill the background. Chad hisses a long breath through his teeth and he keeps his attention forward. “Don’t make eye contact with her. Just keep on acting like your doing whatever you were before. She’s looking to cause a scene for attention.”

He gazes down at them and cracks a stiff smirk. “Just pretend I’m discussing some alternative arrangements with you.”

Veevi’s and Samantha's muffled voices radiate out through the glass barrier and Chad draws a long inhale through his nose. “Gods, I’m so glad that she found Samantha first.”

Tassilda grimaces as her pointed ear catches a surge in volume in he argument. She shudders off the distraction and gazes up to Chad with a curious smile. “Since you are here, what’s your opinion on Emin liquors?”

The faint orange red hues of dusk settle in the western horizon and glow just over the tops of trees. The team gathers around a smooth, flat clay pad just off the brick patio. Cideeda carefully inspects the finer details of the carvings within the dried surface, flick off bits of freshly cut grass with her claws, and dons a toothy grin. “I think that’s all of it.”

Hovering overhead from the patio table, Sebastian squints his eyes and nods. “Yeah, that looks like it.”

He drifts back to the taped together paper diagram, crosses his arms, and scans over the documentation. “That’s all there seems to be for all the symbol carving.”

Turing his head to the side, he grins at Aristespha. “I think it’s ready for you, dear.”

Aristespha nods and glances over to Bach and Dretphi. While Dretphi smooths out the edges of the clay platform, Bach eyes the layout. He sits back down and stretches his lower back. “Great find with this clay.”

Dretphi smiles proudly, pulls off a chunk from a wet mass of yellowish tan earth, and shapes it in her coated hands. “Followed the creek. Good deposit in a bank. Easy to separate.”

Standing up from the table, Aristespha inspects the last page of a long recipe and idly shakes a glass measuring cup level. “Bach? Could you fire the surface and set the inscriptions? We need to apply the powder.”

Bach nods, scoots up next to the platform, and places his hands down carefully. With a dim glow of blue in his eyes, clouds of energy flow out onto the surface. Faint threads of magic mesh upon the surface and illuminate with a warm glow. Water vapor gradually vents out of the clay. The heat increases over the minutes and the color of the clay lightens. Cideeda and Dretphi take turns feeling the radiant heat above the platform and watch the process eagerly. Removing his hands, Bach waves off the excess magical miasma and relaxes his shoulders. “Okay. The surface is fired. That should keep it together.”

Aristespha kneels down, scoops up a mass of powder in her hand, and holds it over the carvings. Pouring the mixture through her fingers, she starts filling in the channels, and looks to Bach, Cideeda, and Dretphi. “Take a handful, if you want. Try to fill all the grooves the best you can.”

Bach, Cideeda, and Dretphi wipes their hands clean against grass and brickwork. Reaching in turn, they pick up a share of the powder and fill in the carvings into the clay. Aristespha glances over her shoulder and smiles to Sebastian. “Sebastian, could you check on Sotalia? We’re getting close to needing the top glaze.”

With a quick nod, Sebastian zips through the back sliding glass door and flies off into the house. Moments later, he phases back through the window and points behind him. “She just got done cooking it.”

Carefully holding a steaming pot by the handle, Sotalia slides open the back door and gingerly guides the concoction near the platform. She leans over, wafts the steam over to the group, and smirks. “If it wasn’t for certain things I put into this, I’d be tempted to put it on some ice cream.”

Cideeda flutters her emerald green eyes and perks her furry ears up. “It smells so sweet! What is in it?”

Sniffing the air, Dretphi steely gray eyes sort through the information in her mind and she twists her tan face. “Sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract...”

Bach nods and smirks. “Not bad so far.”

Sotalia rolls her golden eyes and snorts. “Yeah, right up until you put in the salt, sand, and charcoal. But, I’d might even be tempted to keep the salt in. Especially, since you boil it down and thicken it to syrup.”

Aristespha eyes the dark soup in the pot and cracks a grin to Sotalia. “Without the sand and charcoal, I might be tempted to try it in my coffee.”

A devious smirk curls at the corner of Sotalia’s mouth and she winks to Aristespha. “Or a few cocktails. I know liquors that’d go well with something like that.”

Bach catches a thought and blinks as his mind process it. He glances between the clay inscriptions, the powder upon it, and the steaming syrup. “I can make an educated guess at a lot of the function behind all this, but... Damn, this is involved and doesn’t seem like it’s all there.”

Aristespha checks over the powder filled carvings upon the dried clay and nods in agreement. “It’s not, yet. Part of the ritual process activates the remaining components and draws in the raw materials from the reagents.”

When Bach, Cideeda, and Dretphi finish filling the last channels with powder, Aristespha quickly gestures out an incantation and gently sweeps her hand over the platform. Energy sweeps the excess powder and corrals it back into in the glass measuring cup. Aristespha directs Sotalia to the flat center point. “Pour slowly there and let it spread out. We want to get an even coat over the clay.”

Sotalia nods, positions the pot above, and carefully tips it. A black syrup flows out, collects upon the center, and oozes outwards. Scraping the remainder with a spatula, Sotalia works the last bit out the cookware and lets the bits drip off the utensil. A flicker of violet illuminates Aristespha’s eyes and she eases her hand over the center of the circle. Waves of force gently press down upon the syrup and spread to evenly to the edges of the platform.

Straightening her posture, she motions everyone near. “Okay. I’ll start.”

As the team assembles behind her, Aristespha methodically recites an elaborate series of incantations and moves her hands through a number of gestures. As swirls of prismatic flow gather around her, she holds her hands out and hovers them over the dark platform surface. The energy sinks into the top coat. Sparkles of power spread and the fluid surface hardens. From underneath, a radiant glow of power travels through the many inscriptions. The light brightens and warps through a spectrum of color before the rhythmic flow stabilizes into constant patterns.

Aristespha finishes the final part of her incantation, rests her hands upon the smooth surface, and waits as trickles of energy thread into the platform. “Preparation is done. Now, I’m... Calling him.”

Seconds pass into minutes. Sotalia sets the pot aside on the table and crosses her arms. “So, anything else suppose to happen?”

Glancing her glowing violet eyes over to Sotalia, Aristespha sighs. “I have to wait for him to answer.”

Cideeda rolls her emerald green eyes and snorts. “Figures we just get done and he probably just got distracted with something else.”

Bach smiles tightly and chuckles. “Probably using the bathroom. That’s when I always get a call.”

Nodding in complete agreement, Dretphi sighs with a trailing groan. “Never fails. Hour before, nothing. Go to the bathroom. Think they will call in the next hour. No. When you sit down.”

Hissing a breath through a grimace, Bach gazes over to Dretphi. “Your parents, too? My dad does that.”

Sebastian groans ethereally and comments with stale aggravation. “Gods, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one he did that to.”

Dretphi rolls her steely gray eyes and nods to Bach. “My birth father. I can not prevent it.”

A shift in the flow of energies changes the patterns within the channels of the circle. Aristespha straightens her posture and her very long, pointed ears perk. “It’s connected!”

A rush of magical miasma rises up from the circle and materializes. Within moments, a translucent visage of a man sitting on the ground condenses. A delighted smile appears wide in the middle of a bushy gray beard and a gentle lift of eyebrows brightens the expression on the older man’s face. “Aristespha! Oh, it’s been too long. I’m so happy you contacted me! How have you been?”

A happy smile appears on Aristespha’s ivory face and she sighs in relief. “Well, good all things considered, Marcus.”

A laugh slips out from Marcus and he shakes his head with a grin. “Marcus? Aw, no need to address me that properly.”

Aristespha twists a smirk and shrugs. “Okay, Mark. It’s just been a while.”

Mark nods and chuckles with a lean forward. “It has. By the way, do you have friends near you? I can sense them nearby. Give me a moment.”

As Mark’s visage gestures, a circle projection of energy radiates out upon the ground. It slides around on the ground, widens, and encircles the entire team nearby. Mark smiles brightly and nods. “That’s better. I wanted to see all your friends. So, good to meet all of you. I’m Marcus Harold, but just call me Mark. Or, Harry. Or, that guy. Really out here, if anyone call me a name, I just might respond.”

The emotional warmth radiates out and the team relaxes to the good mood. Mark smiles to Aristespha. “Well, I’m all for chatting about everything. But, let’s talk about your big concern. I’ve been thinking about your message.”

Aristespha bows respectfully and frowns slightly. “I’m sorry to contact for that, after so long.”

Waving off the worry, Mark snorts and smiles. “It’s fine. Gods know, I haven’t been doing anything exciting. But, it looks like you have. So...”

His eyes search his mind for moment. In the background of the projection, a faint, large figure briefly moves behind him and fades away. Mark brushes his fingers through his beard and nods. “I can definitely help. It’s going to take some time to get spirits gathered and educate a few of them.”

He smirks and shrugs his shoulders. “Well, I’m going to need to be educated, too. So, fair enough there. The little ones are very good but a little single minded. I’ve know a few bigger ones that got right mindset, so to speak. So, they’ll be good. And, I’ll talk to a few of the big players. Those spirits are pretty sharp, so we can describe to them what you are looking for.”

Aristespha smiles hopefully. “That’s great to hear. We need all the help we can get to try to find this location. And, thank you for sending the instructions for this commune conduit.”

Mark smiles and shakes his head. “Not a problem. I’ve been meaning to be more social lately. I think I’m wearing old Goris out with the same old subjects. Could stand to hear what’s been going on.”

He perks his brow and narrows a curious gaze between the different members of the team. “Also, I have to say, Akalab was looking really good when I got your message from him. He mentioned receiving a very generous gift from one of you.”

Bach’s blue eyes widen and he awkwardly averts his gaze from attention. Aristespha contorts her face with a bit of discomfort. “That might be a subject best discussed in person.”

Mark nods respectfully and flashes a delighted grin. “Oh, that’d be great to have visitors! I’m all settled at my favorite spot to be this time of year, too. But, you all need to rest up. I still remember the few times I visited the north part of the PWZ.”

He grits his teeth and shudders his body. “Great experiences, but gods know I don’t need that much excitement at my age. Whew. Got near one of those surges and that was enough fun for me.”

Sotalia smirks and shifts her weight to another foot. “You should try being in one.”

An attentive spark ignites Mark’s interest. He settles into a more comfortable posture on his side of the connection and brushes some leaves off his robes. “Well, if you got the time and energy, I got plenty. I’d like hear about what you all have been doing. Might give me some insight on what to tell the spirits to look for.”

Aristespha nods appreciatively. “We’ll tell you want we can. It might take some time to relate everything.”

Mark shrugs and his visage motions down to the circle below. “If we too tired tonight, we’ll talk tomorrow. It’s going to take time to get everything in order, so let’s catch up in the mean time.”

He narrows his stare from the other side, focuses his attention upon Sebastian, and points. “Let’s start with you. What’s your story?”

The bright floods of the lead construction robot lights up the long, dusty corridor. Lexattican steps around rocky debris and old equipment in the hall. Following behind the bot, he gazes down branches off the main corridor and squints into the abandoned runs. Stopping a moment, he peers into a large room and gazes upon tables with robotic projects in different states of construction. His yellow eyes search around the surrounding desks with ancient paperwork decaying into flaky piles and frowns at the ruin.

He withdraws and resume going down the long, dusty corridor with the construction bot escort. At the very end of the main hall, he stops to gaze up at heavy frame supporting two open, large double doors. Stepping through the threshold, he slows down and drags his inquisitive gaze upon the contents of the room. Bays of tool chests and heavy machinery surround the massive space. Above him on the ceiling, heavy mounts support enormous tracks and hydraulic powered junctions joining a central loop to the bay runs. Lexattican wanders around upon the smooth concrete floor. His boot steps echo out into to huge, dark chamber.

His gaze gravitates towards the center circle, and he gawks at the track attached frames encasing massive robotic skeletons. Narrowing his stare, he scratches his light gray, green hinted chin and studies the huge, dormant machines. His eyes sort between familiar components and unfamiliar configurations. Hydraulics and synthetic muscle mesh with inscribed stone and refined crystal. Continuing his exploration, he stares as he walk away. Swinging his head around, he freezes.

Merging with the shadows, a billowing cloud of black miasma lingers and remains in place. Ignoring all light, the fluctuating form idly rests upon a platform with the edges of its being flowing a black ethereal fire. Lexattican stares in awe and approaches slowly. The construction bot follows and shines bright flood lights that starkly contrast the reflective surroundings against the absorbing humanoid mass of darkness. Approaching the intimidating form, he studies complicated machinery forming a huge perimeter and thick transparent barriers. Standing at the open armored doors forming the precipice of an inner, isolated chamber, he gazes upon the metal and stone augmented form of the dark energy being. Breaking his fascination away, he follows the technological and magical conduits to a series of intricate, large machines.

Within a clear storage cell, a faint white glow pulses out. As recognition dawns upon Lexattican, a plotting grin widens on his face and his renewed interests rest upon the black energy creation.