Episode 109

Dretphi taps a pencil upon the taped together, printed map and scans her steely gray eyes over the different markings. Propping her tan, faint gray striped arm upon the table top, she rests her chin in the palm of her hand. Her pencil tip wanders between topological rings and terrain indicators. She sketches out a route from an access road and tracks back to a marked point. Cideeda’s furry ears perk and her emerald green eyes watch Dretphi’s drawing. “We might have to hike from further down. There’s nothing recent to confirm that road is even usable.”

Dretphi sighs and hovers the pencil over the access route. “I know. The old road should be preferable over forest. I hope.”

Cideeda wanders her curiosity to Aristespha and the mess of research in front of her. “Anything else you want to add to the map?”

Tugging at the corner of her mouth, Aristespha slowly shakes her head of long, silvery blue hair. Rubbing her violet eyes, she sighs with a trace of a smirk. “No. I think that’d be plenty for one possible trip. I’ll probably have another batch once I double check the coordinate conversions.”

Aristespha glances over to Bach and lifts her brow. “Anything of interest?”

After a few moments, Bach blinks his blue eyes back to awareness and shrugs with a bit of embarrassment. “Sorry, no. Honestly, I’ve been blanking out for the past hour.”

Hovering in a seat next to Bach, Sebastian meets the expectant gaze of Aristespha and grins awkwardly. “Same?”

Aristespha smirks lovingly to Sebastian and nods understandingly. “It’s okay, Sebastian. I think I need a break, too.”

Cideeda’s furry ears flick towards the kitchen door, and a spark of hunger lights her eyes. “Sotalia is back.”

Seconds after the faint drone machinery and echoing sounds of metal conveying up, the kitchen door opens. Sotalia struts in with a grin on her face and hoists up two large paper bags. “Who’s hungry?”

Resting the sacks upon the counter, she lifts up her sunglasses on her fiery orange, wavy hair and sorts through the food. “Sorry it took so long. Fval Spice was busy today.”

Cideeda sniffs the air, follows the scent, and reaches into one of the two bags. “What was the occasion?”

Sotalia ponders a moment, raps her long, black fingernails upon the counter top, and twists her mouth. “I think it’s the people arriving early for some kind of fan thing for the Next Adventurers of Nexus? A lot of people wearing show shirts.”

Aristespha flutters her eyes as memory prompts her to check her aetherphone. “Oh, that’s right. It’s some fan meet up they had a contest for. Deedri was mentioning it. Speaking of which, I’m supposed to meet with her tonight in the forest. I’ll have to ask her what’s been going on with this event.”

Lifting up a box, Sotalia reads the markings and walks over towards the end of the dining table. “Sounds like a bunch of bullshit from what Tassilda has messaged me.”

She places the container in front of Aristespha and passes over a fork. “They have them running around doing just everything you can imagine to please the fans.”

Aristespha nods, snaps her attention to the food box, and opens it up with a hungry glint in her violet eyes. She pauses a moment as Sotalia starts to turn away and taps her ivory finger upon a tablet display. “Oh, what does this translate to? I can’t remember this old dialect correctly right now.”

Sotalia’s golden eyes focus up the images of old text and she contorts her face in contemplation. “It seems to be talking about plains or fields? And... Well, this part is really context dependent. It’s some mix of within, under, upon, between, or part of.”

Nodding, Aristespha jots down some notes upon a pad of paper and twists her mouth. “Thank you. I’ll have to go over it a few more times and refresh my knowledge.”

Sebastian hovers up from his seat over a chair at the dining table, and drifts around in thought. “Well, we have enough for one good trip. And, it’s the stuff that’s closest to Noxian’s last known direction. So, we’ll at least eliminate a few that’d be next on his list if he starts exploring back here.”

Bach rubs his blue eyes, stretches against the chair back, and blinks blankly. “I just hope it stays quiet around here. Nothing to get his attention. He wanders up there and we sweep everything out from underneath him. Then, he gets to study our leftovers.”

Sotalia places a foil tray in front of Bach and sets fork next upon the steaming collection of vegetables and meat. She pats his shoulder with a smile and tosses back her hair over her swept-back horns.

Small groups of people wander through the old mall turned convention center. Down one wide main hall, different store fronts advertise Next Adventurers of Nexus products with elaborate displays. Further towards a T-intersection, the crowds of fans thicken in long, organized tracks leading to different stations. Within the first opposing pairing of old store fronts, Deedri and Modoran occupy their respective booths. Under the surveillance of stationed and roving camera crews, Deedri maintains a cheery exterior in her show themed attire, greets fans, and poses for pictures. She makes small talk with each of the more excited fans and answers questions with canned responses. Between photos and signatures, traces of wear briefly slip into her demeanor. Summoning up renewed cheer, Deedri greets the next group energetically to their expectations.

Modoran leans hard on the back of his chair, idly rocks his boots upon the signing table, and sighs. With each small gathering of fans, he presents a nonchalant attitude and acknowledges them with a nod. Photographs receive quick signatures and Modoran meets each group pose both figuratively and literally laid back. Despite the lack of effort on Modoran’s part, the fans walk away flits of excitement and energy as their experience sates their beliefs. In lulls between, Modoran sneaks a watchful gaze over towards Deedri. Occasionally, for brief moments, two exchange comforting glances across the wide hall through the sparse crowd.

In the next pairing of opposing booths, Trakenthin and Tassilda meet and greet people. Trakenthin stands stoic with each gathering. Gauging the reactions of the fans, his facade shifts between calm and stern. When posing for pictures, he sports his practice blade and maneuvers it to clash dramatically with reproduction weapons. Aetherphones record mock matches of swords and a few arm wrestling matches. Faint hints of amusement slip out from behind Trakenthin’s stoic exterior when a proficient fan matches up with swords or strength, to Trakenthin’s eventual victory. The closer the match the more enjoyment appears on his face.

Tassilda meets fan with a fanciful displays of magic and an aloof attitude outwardly. She answers questions about basic magic to the eager, while humoring those drawn to her appearance. With elaborate signatures upon materials, she gestures brief illusions to finish the process to the astonishment of recipients. With a confident attitude, she poses with in a variety of slightly alluring stances and often winks a light blue on black eye for the cameras. With a dramatic pivot, she walks back to her seat behind the booth during respites and eases out relaxing breaths in the lull of activity.

At center stage of the intersection, Chad and Veevi entertain the crowds lining up. Veevi remains front and center. Tossing back her pink hair, she poses for the ongoing attention of the cameras. She struts around in her revealing, leather armor outfit with a flick of her short-haired tail, and winks with a smug smirk on her tan face. She picks out groups from the crowd, fancifully signs materials, and poses suggestively. With each gossipy question, she remarks around the question and tinges the response with attention grabbing controversy. Hogging the large share of interest, she gleeful fields fan and soaks up the adoration with each wave.

Chad maintains a booth off to the side. As groups arrive, he presents his bold, bright white smile and greets them confidently. Gauging the reaction, he happily poses for both group and action pictures. He carefully answers questions and admits what he can’t reveal to the hopeful fans. He readily signs materials with personal, encouraging messages. As one group clears around for the next, he takes a few seconds to peak over the sparse crowds. His gazes shifts between Tassilda, Trakenthin, Modoran, and Deedri. Narrowing his brown eyes, he observes them and how well they handle the onslaught. Checking his aetherphone clock, he sighs at the morning time and musters up his bold demeanor for the next group.

Far off to the side away from the crowds, Samantha glances over her clipboard and directs her voice to her aetherphone. “It’s going just fine, Howie. Everything is coming together nicely.”

Howard’s voice sounds out from the other side of call. “Good. I take it our guests of honor are getting treated well?”

A wicked smirk graces Samantha face, she snickers with a nod. “Yes. They are getting the VIP treatment with the rest of the contest winners. They’ll be split up in the smaller groups for the personal meetups soon. We’ve got a good time and place for their... encounter.”

After a foreboding chuckle, Howard calls out from the phone. “Gerald? Are your people ready?”

Gerald quirks his brow and twists his mouth. “Yes. I can dedicate a few small teams to be at and around the location. We should be able to cover it as part of the live streaming parts and mix it in with the episode tonight.”

A spark glee trickles out into Samantha’s expression and she smiles. “The production team should be ready for our planned, breaking event. I’m certain we will get something good out of it. We’ll get the ratings back up and then some.”

A hint of relief slips through into Howard’s voice as it leaves the speakerphone. “Good. It’d like to get a few more episodes this season. We just need one good bit of drama to make it work and we can bump it from there.”

Samantha grins with a giggle. “I can’t wait to see what we get.”

Gerald glances over to Samantha and her aetherphone. After a few moments, he stares out into the crowd and watches Chad, Veevi, Tassilda, Trakenthin, Modoran, and Deedri as mixes emotion leak out into his uneasy body language.

Lalyanpha opens the front exterior door in the modest living room. Kallentesson steps across the threshold and immediately wraps his arms around his daughter. He speaks a warm verse of evuukian and smiles at her. From behind, Lasosopha steps between and hugs Lalyanpha. “How is my daughter today?”

Lalyanpha rolls her dark yellow eyes and dons a smirk upon her light, gold highlighted face. “As good as any mother with a little boy running rampant can be.”

Lasosopha sighs with an understanding smile and narrows her similarly dark yellow eyes. “There’s a few stories I need to share to you about your brothers. It might help explain a few behaviors you’ll run into.”

Kallentesson walks in further and extends his hand to Mason standing in the living room. “Mason, how was work this week?”

Mason shakes Kallentesson’s hand, draws in a breath, and chuckles warily. “Exhausting, Kal. Thankfully, we got the part of the convention center that was booked for Next Adventurers crew done last night.”

He cracks a smirk on his tan face and perks his brow. “And, I’m not on call. So, I’m staying right here for the weekend.”

Kal nods in agreement and a smile appears on his tan hinted face. “Good plan. Doing something similar myself.”

Lasosopha lets go of her daughter and glances around the room. “Now, where it my grandson?”

Leaning back and squinting, Lalyanpha gazes through the doorway into the kitchen and spots Mylo through the window, playing in the backyard sandbox with a small shovel and bucket. “Keeping himself occupied... For now.”

Brushing back her blonde hair, Lasosopha nods and steps back to stand near the kitchen entrance. “Oh good. We have a few moments.”

Lalyanpha quirks an eyebrow and gazes into her father’s orange eyes. “While I’m happy to have you here, I’m a bit curious why you chose this weekend to come down?”

Kal twists his mouth and shrugs indecisively. “Well, it was a few different reasons. Your cousins were coming down due to some contest they won, and we decided to take advantage of the group accommodations they booked. But...”

He pauses a moment, retrieves an envelope from his back pants pocket, and holds it in his hands. “I wanted to tell you some news.”

Lalyanpha glances around and her body tenses. Mason steps next to her and wraps an arm around her. Kal brushes hand through his head of gray speckled, golden hair and releases a long sigh of relief. “I’ve officially stepped down as head of the house. It’s my brother’s duty as of now.”

Blinking in surprise, Lalyanpha’s very long, pointed ears twitch and she tilts her head to the side. “Oh my gods. I always figured you’d hold onto it until you just couldn’t anymore.”

Kal chuckles and presents the envelop to his daughter. “Well, you are right. I just couldn’t anymore. I found so many better things to spend my time on.”

He rolls his orange eyes and groans with an amused twist in his smirk. “Plus, it’ll finally get your uncle off my back to have his chance to run everything. Gods help him because no one else will.”

Lalyanpha curiously inspects the envelop and Mason gazes expectantly. Kal smiles hopefully and bows slightly. “But, before I left... My final act was to right a wrong.”

Lalyanpha flips open the envelope, pulls out the bundle of folded papers, and examines them. As her eyes read the text, her mouth drops open in disbelief and tears well in her eyes. Kal draws in a long breath and speaks proudly. “Lalyanpha Ralliana Vaskvari- Sorry, Anderson. You are officially reinstated into House Erikanden. You are free to don this house name, as you see fit. And, you are granted the right to instate your children, current and future, into the house.”

Holding back tears building in the corner of his eyes, Kal pulls a shuddering breath in and musters the composure to speak against the old regret in his voice. “This can’t make up for what I’ve done wrong. I just hope allows us start a better future.”

Drops of water fall upon the page of official letterhead with Evuukian emblems. Lalyanpha sniffs and wipes the tears from her dark yellow eyes. She takes in a few breaths to process her emotions, while Mason holds her close and thankfully nods to Kal. Glancing back from watching Mylo, Lasosopha smiles lovingly to her husband. Kal looks up, breathes, and fights to keep the water from escaping his wet eyes. He laughs awkwardly and sighs. “I can’t grant you any big positions in the house. Everyone else assumed them, which might be a blessing honestly. But, you, Mason, and Mylo have every right to visit all house properties and attend house events.”

Stepping forward, Lalyanpha embraces her father and holds him tightly. Wrapping his arms around his daughter, Kal squeezes out the welling tears from his orange eyes and sniffs loudly. He whispers endearing phrases of evuukian to Lalyanpha with tinges of regret. Lalyanpha replies with warm, forgiving words. Mason pats Kal’s shoulder and nods. “Thanks, Kal.”

Kal loosens his hold of Lalyanpha and smirks. “Also, you do regain access to your house bank accounts.”

Lalyanpha snorts and eases out a chuckle. “Gods, I had almost forgotten about those. Let’s see... A few years of non-resident citizen stipend might be just enough to get a new washer and dryer. Maybe...”

Kal points to the next few pages of the paperwork in bundle within Lalyanpha’s hands. “You might want to read the next page. Durandon engaged in some creative accounting to invest his big sister’s money, without my knowledge.”

Furrowing her burrow, Lalyanpha flips through the next few pieces of paper and focuses upon a financial statement summary. She blinks blankly and draws the piece of paper close. Mason steps up, peeks over Lalyanpha’s shoulder, and widens his brown eyes. Lasosopha steps into the kitchen with an amused smirk. Lalyanpha glances between her father and the paperwork in disbelief. “I- Uh- Huh.”

Kal hold his hands up and shakes his head. “I have no idea. I still don’t know if I should be impressed or worried.”

Mason shifts his gaze to Lalyanpha and smirks. “So, new kitchen?”

Lalyanpha slowly nods in agreement. “That is a distinct possibility. Especially, if means getting a proper tile floor.”

From the kitchen, a door closes quick and fast footsteps sound on the floor. Mylo rounds the corner with his orange and brown gaze searching the room, and excitedly calls out. “GRANDPA!”

Kal kneels down and scoops up the incoming boy into his arms. “How’s my grandson?”

Mylo grins wide and laughs happily. “Digging for treasure!”

With a smirk, Kal asks Mylo. “Did you find any gold?”

Mylo shakes his head. Kal smiles and ruffles Mylo’s dirty blonde hair. “What did you find?”

Thinking out loud, Mylo rambles. “I found a rock. A stick. Another big rock. Some grass. Some mud. Stinky sand.”

Kal blinks and furrows his brow. “Stinky sand?”

Mason glances around awkwardly and grits his teeth briefly. “The neighbors have cats.”

Widening his orange eyes, Kal nods in complete understanding and walks to the kitchen entry. “Oh! Well. How about we wash our hands before lunch?”

Lasosopha smiles at her grandson as he continues reciting his list of sandbox excavation finds, while Kal carries him off down the hall to the bathroom. Lasosopha walks up to Lalyanpha and Mason, and sighs contentedly. “Before I forget. I want to invite all of you to the family holiday getaway. I want the both of you and Mylo there.”

Lalyanpha glances over to Mason. Scratching the back of his head, Mason nods and smiles. “If you’ll have us, I’m all for it.”

Gazing into her mother’s eyes, Lalyanpha uneasily smirks and contorts a bit of worry on her face. “If it’s not too much trouble. I want Mylo to meet everyone. But, I worry how welcoming some will be.”

Resting her hands on Lalyanpha and Mason’s shoulders, Lasosopha grins brightly with a lift of her eye brow. “Nothing to worry about. Everyone WILL be on their BEST behavior, and we’ve gotten new arrangements for a more accomdating resort.”

Walking casually down the hall, Modoran darts his dark blue eyes around and searches the corridor. After a few seconds, he gravitates towards a set of large double doors and grabs hold of the handles. Tugging back a few times, he narrows his stare at the locked metal entry and twists a frown on his dusky bluish gray face. He scratches the back of his head of short, light gray hair, and glances around curiously. From the shadowy space high above in the maintenance walkways, a glint of a camera lens shines briefly as Modoran looks down the opposite way.

Reaching into his pocket, he retrieves his aetherphone, taps through a few menus, and sighs as the call connects. Moments later, he wrestles hints of annoyance in his face and calmly states. “Samantha? Hey, the room I’m supposed to do the private meet and greet with my next group is locked. I could pop the lock, but I thought you’d want someone official to handle it-”

He nods with the conversation from the other end of the phone call. “Okay. I mean, I guess I can keep them entertained with a few tricks and lessons. Answer some questions? That’ll probably take up some time.”

His dark blue eyes roll as he draws in a long breath into his athletic, thin frame and groans faintly. “Okay. I’ll do what I can. Bye.”

Shaking his head, he taps the end call button on the screen of his aetherphone and drops it back in his pants pocket. He leans up against the double door and mutters a few choice evuukian curses underneath his breath. Tilting his head back, he gazes up through the high up skylights at the faint traces of evening slipping into the afternoon sky. His stare grows more distant and he yawns with a faint droop of his very long, pointed ears.

A familiar evuukian man’s voice sounds out. “Hello, Modoran. It’s been a while.”

Modoran’s eyes spring widen open and he snaps his head down one end of the corridor. An evuukian swear slips out of his mouth. Upon his pale, dark blue hinted face, Hektoran grins smugly and narrows his yellow eyes at Modoran. Stepping up next to Hektoran, Mishavalla poses her lithe figure confidently, focuses her piercing yellow eyes, and dons a sneer on her pale, dark blue hinted face. Modoran frowns sharply and grants a quick wave to the brother and sister with four evuukian friends behind them. “Oh, hey. Nice to see you all again! I got to see someone about getting this door unlocked.”

He pivots around and steps away. “Catch you all, later.”

Hektoran crosses his arms, curls a mean sneer on his upper lip, and laughs. “We’re here for our private meetup with a Modoran Anatolin Lotherin... of House Hyathilternen.”

Modoran halts. He straightens up his posture, slowly turns around, and glares at Hektoran. “Could you... PLEASE... Not use that name. I’ve done the best I can, at great expense, to honor the judgment of the Houses. You know I CANNOT be associated with that house in any capacity.”

Drawing in a harsh breath through his nose, he puffs up his chest and growls out. “That was the punishment I accepted and try to abide by. Just respect it already. Could you PLEASE?”

Hektoran steps forward and points spitefully at Modoran. “Oh, fuck you! You got off so easy! You have no idea what I’ve gone through!”

With a twitch of his cheek, Modoran’s nonchalant exterior crumbles and he throws his hands defiantly up in the air. “What YOU have gone through?! Just what the hell is your malfunction, Hektoran!? This has gotten ridiculous! What did I ever do to you to deserve this? TELL. ME. I’m fucking tired of getting shit for things I don’t even know about!”

Hektoran grits his teeth, narrows a baleful glower at Modoran, and yells out. “You ruined my chance to be the next guardian of my house idol! That’s what you did to me! Because of YOU and your house, I was passed over for the role before I got a real chance to prove myself!”

Modoran cocks his head back, blinks blankly, and glances around incredulously. “MY FAULT?! You’re fucking serious? Oh my gods!”

Muttering through a series of evuukian swears, he shakes his head as he takes a few steps closer. He grumbles to himself and calls out. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe, just maybe, there were a few other factors involved that were YOUR FAULT?”

Sneering indignantly, Hektoran growls out as Mishavalla and crew gather closer. “Like what?”

Narrowing an examining glare through Hektoran, Modoran throws his arms out to the sides. “I don’t know. You going around being an asshole to the rest of us at every assembly of houses. You beating us over the head with how your house businesses were the best all around and how the entertainment business was so awesome. Rubbing our noses in how you got all access passes to all the shows we wanted to see. You know, giving all of us every reason to not like you.”

As he gets closer to Hektoran, Mishavalla, and lackeys, Modoran grimaces meanly and leans slightly forward. “And finally... Constantly telling us when you’d get your first night to guard your precious house idol all by yourself.”

Hektoran pulls a wicked, self-satisfied grin across his face and chuckles awkwardly. “Well, you were too much of a coward to face me alone! You had to get your cousins to help you out to even try to get past me. It took all of you to get the idol from me!”

Modoran stands up tall and cackles in sheer, condescending amusement. “You think we banded together because we were afraid of you?! In case you forgot, I snatched that goofy looking, dusty statuette right out behind you, by myself!”

The grin wanes on Hektoran’s face and Mishavalla narrows her glare at Modoran. With a long draw of breath, Modoran smiles smugly and perks his brow. “We were afraid that’d you call in your father at the first sign of trouble... Which you DID!”

He crosses his arms, puffs his chest up, and dons a frown on his dusky bluish gray face. “Your father is the real deal. He caught up to us when our escape plan fell through, we surrendered because we respected him. If it was just up to him, he would have just taken the idol back and let us go with a warning, as standard for house pranks.”

Gritting his teeth, Modoran sighs and shakes his head. “But, no... You couldn’t let it go. Had to stir up some drama with your grandfather and try to upset everything to get your way. So, I took the brunt it. It was my idea. Hence, I should be punished.”

He narrows a stare right through Hektoran and slowly growls. “But, while you whine about not getting some position in your house, I had to get forced out of mine.”

The assembly of evuukians watch each other in awkward, tense moments of silence. Down at the hall, Deedri peeks around the corner with her furry, tufted ears flicking to the noises. Her auburn eyes spring wide as she spots Modoran beyond the gathering of six evuukians. She summons up her sheer determination with a frown, pulls out her aetherphone, and steps forward. Quickly tapping out a message, she presses the send button and closes in on the confrontation. From shadowy corners, camera crews eagerly train their recording equipment on the new participant.

After a few calming breaths, Modoran shudders his head, straightens his posture, and sighs. “Anyway, this is all old news. What is it that you want from me, now?”

Hektoran glares back at with a smirk. Modoran rolls his dark blue eyes and gazes over to Mishavalla with a worn, pleading tone. “Seriously. Misha? Why are you still allowing yourself to get dragged into this mess? If it’s about me being an asshole and dunking you into those ponds when we were little, you can settle that without him.”

Misha’s sharp facade dulls and hints of hesitance emerge in the silence. Modoran gazes to the gathering and groans. “Really? I mean, you got your punches on me last time. Why risk anything more for something that happened years ago?”

Hektoran summons up his ire and points at Modoran with a snarl of his upper lip. “Don’t try to talk your way out of this! I’m not missing a chance to get back at you.”

Modoran steps back as the four other evuukians spread out from behind. Hektoran moves forward, and Misha readies to cast. A commanding, forceful tone echoes down the hallway from Deedri. “STAND. DOWN.”

The attention shifts behind the gathering. Storming down the hall in her thematic dress, Deedri grimaces with determination, lowers her furry, tufted ears, and flicks her haired up tail quickly. She steps right up to other side the parting group and glares up Hektoran with a claw tip pointed at him. “I’ve become quite familiar with Evuukian House Codes of Conduct and various laws dictating House nobility interactions with the public.”

Standing straight, she rests her hands on her hips and berates. “Your actions are in violation of multiple codes and laws. Modoran is not of a house and is a member of the public, so any aggression against him will be deemed a violation of the Nobility Conduct Act. You are not arbiters of House justice in any capacity, and enacting any further retribution on case that has been fully judged is explicitly against The Revised Post-Monarchy House Justice Code.”

She steps forward, pushes her presence through the middle of the congregation, and darts her condemning auburn eyes between them. “While I could go on with other violations, I will state that from this point out I will bear witness to any transgression against Modoran and a file a detailed recount of any and all actions with Evuukian House Affairs.”

Deedri narrows her glare between Hektoran and Misha and waits for them to step to the side. “I would advise all gathered to depart and refrain from any further interactions with Modoran.”

Stepping through the gap between Hektoran and Misha, Deedri smiles warmly to Modoran as she approaches.

With a surge of contempt rushing through him, Hektoran reaches out, firmly grabs Deedri’s shoulder, and pulls her back. “I’d fucking advise you to go witness somewhere else-”

Sharp claw tipped fingers wrap tightly around his forearm. Deedri slams back into Hektoran, yanks his arm forward, and ducks herself down. In a well rehearsed, smooth maneuver, Deedri throws Hektoran forward over her and onto the hard tile floor. With a flash of auburn glow in her eyes, Deedri swiftly gestures out a fast incantation and slaps down a flow of magical energy into Hektoran’s stomach. She hops over the flattened evuukian as Misha and crew reassess the situation. Stepping away, Deedri startles momentarily as Modoran wraps his arm around and pulls her close.

Modoran holds Deedri tightly at his side, gazes with concern into her eyes, and grips her hand with worry. “Are you okay?!”

Deedri stares into Modoran’s dark blue eyes and smirks with a pant. “Yeah. Just fine. He just surprised me there.”

Glancing over to Hektoran slowly getting up off the hard floor, Modoran whispers with a grin cracking. “Must be a lot more painful when you don’t land on grass.”

A giggle escapes Deedri and she bites her lip. “It’s about to get worse for him.”

Hektoran stands up straight, brushes off the futz from the floor, and glares between Modoran and Deedri in disgust. “What the fuck? Wait... Are you two dating or something?”

Both Modoran and Deedri blank their expressions and nervously glance around the scene. Deedri frowns and grows worried. Glancing down to Deedri, confidence emerges on Modoran’s face. Waiting to meet Deedri’s gaze, Modoran smiles warmly to her and squeezes her hand. Deedri’s auburn eyes widen and she lets go Modoran’s hand to stroke his dusky bluish gray cheek. With bold, smug intent, both embrace and share a long, passionate kiss. Seconds later, the two part and smirk at the evuukian crowd. Modoran chuckles lightly while stroking Deedri’s upper arm lovingly. “I actually have to thank you a little, Hektoran. If you hadn’t been such a whiny bitch and got me thrown out... I would have never met such a wonderful, beautiful woman.”

A range of mixed emotions play out upon the audience. Contrasting Hektoran’s revulsion, Misha stares at Modoran and Deedri blankly with hints of regret and jealousy swirling. Regaining his composure, Hektoran grimaces, shakes his head, and starts to roll out derisive evuukian. He halts mid sentence, holds his stomach, and contains a reflexive wretch. Glancing briefly around, the next upwards kick from his gut launches his lunch onto the floor. Hektoran fights against the uncontrollable surges of vomit leaving him. Misha and others try to assist in vain.

While Modoran and Deedri ease back in unison, Modoran whispers down. “Did you...?”

Deedri slowly nods with a tight smile. “Yes.”

Firmly securing his arm around Deedri, Modoran grins, readies his hand, and gestures out flows of energy. “Okay, hold on. It’s time to not be seen.”

Gasping in a huge breath, Hektoran searches the vicinity, notices Modoran’s hand, and sputters out. “Misha! Tag him!”

Misha fumbles to the ready and gestures out an incantation. Gathering the flows of energy into her hands, she flings the mass of magic towards Modoran. The power dissipates into a fading miasma after leaving her hands. Misha puzzles at her missing spell, repeats the motions quickly, and throws out another puff of disappearing energy. Searching for a reason, she notices a faint, translucent haze enveloping her.

From behind Deedri and Modoran, a confident, amused tone exudes from Tassilda while she maintains a stream of barely visible flow towards Misha. “Try as you might, you paltry cantrips will not survive. It seems you haven’t progressed far in your studies. Allow me to educate you about the wonders of dispelling fields.”

Two strong, dark bronze hands firmly grip a shoulder of an evuukian man and woman behind Hektoran and Misha. The two stiffly glance behind and trace the arms up to meet the stoic, towering form Trakenthin. Noticing a presence behind them, the other two lackeys slowly turn to see Chad’s bright white smile. Chad’s hand rests upon the handle of his Stalwart branded sword. He grins and chuckles. “How about we just walk away from this whole mess and call it a day. Okay?”

He narrows his glare to the aggressors and frowns. “Really. Take my advice. Head back to your hotels, cool off, and we’ll just leave it be.”

Hektoran steadies himself, grits his teeth, and yells out. “Fuck you! This isn’t your affair it’s between me and-”

A loud, muffled bubbling resonates from Hektoran midsection. He puzzles and feels his stomach. “What the-”

Another torrent of gurgling stirs audibly within Hektoran, and his face pales further. Modoran waves off the leftover energies from his unfinished spell and glances down to Deedri. “What’s going on? It looks like he puked everything up.”

Deedri parts an evil smirk on her lips. “Yes. But, that’s only half of it.”

Modoran blink blankly, then smiles proudly. Deedri grins devilishly and wraps her arm around Modoran’s waist. Hektoran reflexively bows forward, grips his cramping midsection, and gasps frantically. Noticing the state of affairs, Deedri points down the hall to an intersection and motions towards the right. “There’s an exit that leads to alley with garbage cans and dumpster you can go behind.”

Without another word, Hektoran rigidly power walks down the corridor with Misha and lackeys following behind. After going around the corner, a metal door cracks open loud and faint sounds of struggle through debris echo out. In the din of enraged and strained evuukian pleas, recording crews scramble from hiding and rush down the hallway.

Modoran blinks a moment, quirks his brow, and gazes at Deedri. “Wait... The bathrooms are just down the hall on the left.”

Deedri looks up, perks up her furry, tufted ears, and nods. “I know.”

Meeting her auburn eyes, Modoran brushes back stray locks of multi-colored hair from Deedri’s fair face and smiles warmly. “I love you.”

Wrapping her tail around Modoran’s legs, Deedri guides Modoran’s face down for another passionate kiss. “I love you, too.”

Tassilda struts up to the rest of the team, glances over to Modoran and Deedri, and exhales her relief. “Thank the gods, we can finally talk about you two out in the open.”

A hint of color fills Deedri’s cheeks and she awkwardly smirks. “I hope it wasn’t too obvious.”

Chad shrugs his shoulders and snorts. “Well, there were many insinuations but there was no hard evidence.”

Rolling his hazel eyes, Trakenthin shakes his head. “Excessive physical examinations for minor injuries.”

Modoran slowly nods in agreement. “Yeah. We abused that a bit.”

He turns his head and aims his long, pointed ear down the corridor. Deedri’s furry ear flicks towards a faint sound. Moments later, loud, muffled evuukian curses crest over the din of echoing, wet cascades of fluid splattering upon thin metal.

Deedri glances around with flits of embarrassment and reassures. “Um, don’t worry. He’ll be fine. In a few minutes maybe? It really depends on what he’s eaten lately.”

Chad searches around the corners and vantage points. Noticing only a few cameras in the area, he gestures to the team and directs everyone’s attention away from the latest commotion. “Let’s get away from this while they’re distracted. I don’t feel like giving them any more material to work with today.”

Modoran’s dark blue eyes widen and he grits his teeth. “Oh yeah. I completely forgot in the moment. They’ve probably have been recording...”

He draws in a long breath and sighs. “That is going to make things interesting.”

Deedri glances up with hint of worry. “Oh. Right. Um... I hope this wasn’t streamed live.”

Modoran smiles lovingly to Deedri and hugs her firmly. “It does not change anything. But, we might want to avoid the show aethersite for the next week.”

Rolling her eyes, Deedri wraps her around arms around Modoran and walks close with traces of relief. “If we’re lucky, something else will distract them soon.”

As the team reforms, Tassilda glances back towards the direction of digestive struggles and smirks. “If THAT doesn’t do it, just give Veevi a few days. I’m sure she’ll do something scandalous.”

Lounging upon the middle of a simple but well-made couch, an older, elegant evuukian woman swirls dark red wine in a glass and cracks a proud grin on her gray, shaded face. Her very long, pointed ears perk with the Next Adventurers of Nexus show cutting to a louder commercial, and she strokes her very long white hair upon her shoulders. With a breath in, she laughs softly and glances her dark blue eyes between the two younger evuukian women seated on either side of her on the couch. “Well, this is certainly an interesting development, but one I’m absolutely delighted for. Especially, for my precious little boy.”

With an excited grin on her face, Linanania leans upon the older woman’s shoulder and flits her dark blue eyes wide. “See! I TOLD you. They were totally keeping it secret.”

Rolling her dark blue eyes, Massadenia shakes her head of long, light gray hair and maintains her collected demeanor. “Well, now that it’s official, I believe I should make arrangements for Modoran and Deedri for the family holiday? Correct, mother?”

Nodding to Massadenia, the matriarch between the younger women smiles happily and sips her wine. She ruffles her hand through Linanania’s short hair and giggles with a smirk. “Of course. And, I want to see if Deedri’s parents would be available, too.”

Transitioning to opacity, an older evuukian man quirks the brow on his dusky blue hinted face and cocks his head of short, light gray hair. “Gods, don’t scare her off, Lillithia. You don’t want to be too forward and make her uncomfortable.”

Lillithia gazes upwards lovingly and reaches out to the face of the man bowing down. “Oh, I doubt anything I do is going to frighten her, Marrekan. Did you see her? I can’t wait to have her over, again. I have sample bottles of a few wines I need to enjoy with her.”

After kissing Lillithia, Marrekan nods as he stands up straight. “Yes. The whole event has made quite the stir already.”

A few message chimes sound out from his aetherphone and he inspects the device. After sorting through a few prompts, he rolls his dark gray eyes and shakes his head. “I bet Kallentesson is happy he stepped down.”

Twisting her mouth, Lillithia sighs and swirls the remaining wine in her glass. “I can’t fault him, but I feel his brother might be on the war path.”

Massadenia cracks a plotting smirk and chuckles to herself. “Oh, it won’t matter. Modoran never touched any of them. He displayed respect for the judgment of the Houses and showed restraint. And, it was Hektoran that assaulted a member of the public. I do believe this is all in our favor.”

A wild grin springs wide on Linanania’s face and she giggles. “As if Hektoran is going live this down. I mean, behind a dumpster in an alley way?”

Ruffling his daughter’s short hair with his hand, Marrekan snorts with a smirk and shakes his head nonchalantly. “I wish that was even close to the worst thing we’ve had to contend with at our properties.”

Linanania smiles brightly as spark of mischief lights her dark blue eyes. “I wonder if she can teach me that spell?”

Awkward attention shifts to Linanania as Massadenia, Marrekan, and Lillithia exchange warily glances.

Lalyanpha blinks her dark yellow eyes and glances over to Mason with her hand over her mouth. “I am so glad I put Mylo to bed before this.”

Tilting his head to the side, Mason grits his teeth and nods slowly. “Uh, yeah. That would have been a long talk if he wandered in.”

Turning his head to the recliner next to the couch, Mason curls an amused grin towards Kal and laughs. “So... Kal... How do you feel about your decision to step down now?”

Contorting his face while staring at the modest television screen on the wall, Kal blinks blankly at the advertisements as his orange eyes sort through his thoughts. Aiming an annoyed glare down at his vibrating aetherphone on the recliner arm, he picks up the device and holds a button on the side. After a few seconds, the phone powers down and he plops it onto an end table. He shifts his hand over, grasps hold of a beer bottle, and pours a long swig into his mouth. Drawing a long breath, he smirks with a snort and gazes over to Mason. “It is rare for such big, important decisions to ever be easy to navigate. It is even rarer for your decision to be granted any kind of feedback on whether it was right or not.”

He motions towards the general direction of the television and chuckles. “For something so blatant, that reinforces your decision so resolutely... THAT is an exceptional treat.”

Lalyanpha pauses in thought a moment, leans close to Mason’s ear, and whispers quietly. Mason nods with a smile. “Yeah, of course, Laly. I sure wouldn’t want to go anywhere near that mess.”

After a quick peck on Mason’s cheek, Lalyanpha leans forward slightly and gazes at Kal. “Father, would you and mother like to stay the night here? I know you already made arrangements and we’re not exactly the best accommodations...”

Stepping through from the archway into the kitchen, Lasosopha perks her very long ears slightly, taps the end call button on her phone, and smiles eagerly. “I would love nothing more than that.”

Kal nods in agreement and grins graciously. “Thank you. While we don’t want to burden you, I really don’t want to go near the hotel right now.”

Mason stands up from the couch and brushes himself off. “Well, you two need anything from your rooms? I can probably sneak on in there for you. Just need to borrow one of your room keys.”

Furrowing his brow, Kal uncertainly inquires. “You don’t have to do that. I’m certain we can arrange for our bags to be brought here and...”

Mason smirks knowingly and waits for Kal to arrive to the same conclusion. After a moment of contemplation, Kal cocks his head of gray speckled, golden brown hair, reaches into his pocket, and hands Mason a room key card. “I believe your suggestion to be the best one right now.”

Taking the card, Mason nods and chuckles lightly. “Yeah. I’ll throw on my work overalls before I head out. No one is going to bother asking the maintenance guy where any nobility is.”

Lalyanpha gets up off the couch, starts pulling the cushions off, and tossing the occasional toy out of the way. “I’ve got a few thick blankets that’ll make this sleeper sofa tolerable.”

Shaking her head, Lasosopha joins her daughter in the preparation effort and laughs. She whispers to Lalyanpha in evuukian and amuses at the surprise on her daughter’s face. Kal glances over, rolls his eyes, and sighs. “Oh gods, not that story...”