Episode 112

Gazing up through the skylights in the disused food court, Bach sighs long, shakes his head upon the tile floor, and frowns. “That’s so fucked up. I mean, she just, literally, lashed out at you.”

Chad groans out stale embarrassment and rubs his eyes into a pinch of the bridge of his nose. “Yeah. I... The whole situation with her is just so strange. I’m glad she’s going to be okay. Well, physically at least. But, I don’t know what is going on in her head half the time...”

Bach wrestles a thought on his face, twists his mouth, and glances his blue eyes over to Chad. “Well, not that this experience wasn’t terrible, but I get the feeling there’s was already plenty that needs to be dealt with. It sounds like she needs some professional help.”

Blinking his brown eyes while shaking his head, Chad snorts in a flit of dry amusement and smirks. “After all this, I think we all could use it. I always wondered why the guild has a huge directory for mental health service providers.”

Narrowing his gaze, Bach twists a curl at the corner of his mouth and lifts his brow. “A few have some oddly specific specialties. Like one doctor listed something about experience treating Slime related issues.”

Chad blinks a few times and shudders with a visible cringe. “I’m actually NOT surprised at all there’s a demand for that. Yuck.”

He gradually lifts himself up to a seat upon the tile floor, slacks his shoulders, and stretches his neck. “Anyway... Have to say, your story is pretty fucking insane. I mean in just a couple months, all this crap has happened.”

Bach draws in a long breath, crosses his arms over his stomach, and sighs with a frown. “Yeah... I mean, it’s getting better. Without going into too many details that I probably shouldn’t say, we’re hoping to find what we need before anyone else and shut it down. If that can be done, then it’d make the other problems workable.”

Shifting his weight forward, Chad gets his feet underneath him, slowly stands up, and inspects his armor. “It’d be once less thing for all of us to deal with. And, I hope you figure a way to get your brother back to, um, normal.”

He steps over next to Bach, holds his hand out, and leans down. “I wouldn’t rest easy if I knew sister was stuck that way. So, what you are going through can’t be any fun.”

Bach cracks a smirk, grips onto Chad’s assistance, and rises slowly up. He stabilizes himself on his feet and brushes off the dirt on his shirt and duster. “It’s been rough, but he’s handling it the best he can. Just wish we could get all this sorted out and do some... I guess... Normal adventuring?”

Shifting his attention to the smoldering pile of magic stonework and robotics in the middle of the food court, he glances over to Chad and shrugs his shoulders with an awkward grimace. Chad blinks at the messy, magitech remains of the Nightmare Golem, and uncertaintly chuckles. “Crap, I don’t even know what that might be at this point.”

He points to the faintly fuming heap and scrunches up his nose. “Less of that. Yeah. Definitely less of THAT.”

Bach nods, stretches his back, and grunts. “Gods, I hope so. I’m ready for all the boring and mundane jobs after all this.”

Pausing in a thought a moment, Bach gazes over to Chad, uneasily contorts his face, and sighs. “Hey, I know this a big favor to ask, especially after all this... But... Could you keep the exact details on how we took this thing down a secret? I don’t know what would happen if certain people figured things out and-”

Chad shakes his head with a smirk and waves off Bach’s concerns. “It’s fine. If I learned anything from my mom and dad when it comes to business, it’s to know when to omit certain details.”

He pivots to face Bach and holds his hand out. “You helped get Veevi out of here and saved my ass. I swear no one is going to get the complete story from me.”

Bach and Chad shake on the agreement. After a few seconds of quiet admiration at the pile of smoldering golem, Chad perks his brow and crosses his arms. “So, we’ll just say we stabbed and blasted it until it broke down?”

Studying the broken magical machine, Bach slowly nods, rests his hands on his sides, and laughs. “Yeah, that’ll work. I mean, it looks the part now. If someone presented this to me and said they shot it and bashed it until it stopped moving, I’d believe it.”

Chad surveys the destruction around, focuses upon the robotic scrap pile, and narrows his gaze. Walking up slowly, he orbits around to a side of the machine. Pointing to a sword handle, he glances over to Bach questioningly. Bach shrugs his shoulders and approaches calmly. “It should be safe. Those energies seem to cancel each other out.”

Tapping the blade pommel cautiously, Chad carefully grips hold of the hilt of his sword and gradually pulls the weapon out from the metal mass. He hoists up the sword in the light coming from the afternoon sun and examines the state of the blade. Studying the damage, he inspects the layers of pitting upon surface of the metal, deep gouges melted into the steel, and fractured sections of missing material. Bach blinks at the soot coated weapon and grimaces with a wave of embarrassment. “Oh shit. Damn, I’m sorry about your sword. Fuck, I still haven’t figured out how to do those quick enchantments and NOT damage the things I put them on...”

Chad pivots to face Bach, quirks his brow, and tosses the blade back into the pile of golem bits. He grins with a chuckle and shrugs. “It’s cool. It was a promotion deal with a company. I mean, it was a good sword but it was a sponsor freebie. So, I doubt they gave me their best.”

He points to Bach and cracks an intrigued smile. “Now, when I get my next sword, if you can put a stable enchantment like the one you did, then we’re talking.”

Bach snorts, shrugs his shoulders, and smirks. “Okay, I guess I owe you one sword enchantment.”

Chad shakes his head and rolls his brown eyes. “If anyone owes anyone anything, it’s me.”

He frowns slightly, and gazes at Bach. “Before I forget, I just wanted to apologize for all the bullshit from me. You guys helped us out and I was too far up my own ass to realize it the first time around. And like an asshole, I went along with what the show wanted.”

Bach smiles and nods in acceptance. “Thanks. I appreciate it hearing it from you.”

He pauses a moment and tugs at the corner of his mouth. “And, since we’re clearing the air, sorry for all the grief I gave you.”

Chad blinks a moment, cocks his head of short, light brown hair to the side, and narrows his curious gaze. “Like what?”

Glancing awkwardly around, Bach crosses his arms, wrestles an uneasy smirk, and laughs nervously. “Well, your sword...”

Shrugging his shoulders, Chad snorts dismissively. “I told you, it’s cool-”

Bach grits his teeth briefly and squirms slightly while standing. “Um, well, I’m talking when you got it.”

Chad narrows his stare and ponders visibly on his face. His eyes widen, and he tilts his head to the side. “Wait... You... That’s right, you tried to pull it before me! That was YOU!?”

Cringing slightly, Bach chuckles nervously and eases out a breath. “Yeah.”

A smirk emerges on Chad face and he laughs while shaking his head. “Fuck. Oh well, I probably would have tried to do the same. So, I can’t blame you there.”

He gazes up through the skylight above at the afternoon sun, and glances down the exit hallway. “Well, we should be probably meet up with everyone. And well, not do much, honestly.”

Bach stares at the smoldering heap of magic stone and robotic metal, nods in agreement, and huffs. “No shit. I’m still tired after dealing with this. Probably just going to lay down until they figure out everything outside.”

Chad surveys the destruction of the surrounding area, glances through gaping hole in the collapsed window wall, and rests his attention upon the pile of magitech scrap. The two gaze upon the wreckage. Chad cocks his head to the side and grimaces. “So, this is the third one of these you’ve had to deal with?”

Bach shrugs and ponders out loud. “Two and a half? This one wasn’t quite like the other two. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.”

Shaking his head, Chad draws in a long breath and sighs deeply. “Still, who the fuck would make something like this?”

After a silent second, Bach frowns, lowers his head slightly, and tightly crosses his arms. “I don’t know. Past assholes is all I’ve been able to figure out. Seriously, this crap has caused way too many of my problems.”

He directs his voice to Chad. “Fair warning, you might get asked questions by the GAA and Rangers. Just, you know, be careful what you say... I’m still trying to figure them out.”

Chad nods resolutely. “All I’m going to say is that we shot and chopped it until it finally stopped moving. Not much more to say, since that’s what we did.”

Bach breathes out his relief. “Thanks again. Really.”

After a lull in the conversation, Chad quirks his brow and dons a humored smirk. “Well, not bad work for an intern.”

Bach rolls his blue eyes, groans out tinge of aggravation, and shakes his head. “Gods, when this is all done I’m going to need to fix THAT.”

As Chad and Bach walk toward the exit, Bach grumbles loudly and pinches the bridge of his nose. “You ever been given the run around by children over being an intern? It’s embarrassing.”

Chad snorts his amusement and narrows his gaze with a thought. After a moment of the two walking, he glances over to Bach inquisitively. “By the way, you wouldn’t happen to know who pulled that prank on my ride?”

Bach blinks blankly and fights to maintain a calm facade. “Uh...”

Standing along the path of deep, mechanical footprints in the soil, Captain Hays adjusts his wide brimmed hat against the late afternoon sun. Wrestling a flit of unease on his aged face, he strokes his long, black beard and sighs uncomfortably. “Well, this is not good.”

Flicking his furry ears away from either side the fresh divide in the forest canopy, Heccaeh grimaces briefly and nods. “Yeah, I think anything that plows through trees like grass and moves in a mindless straight line is not great. We haven’t had the best of luck with stuff like that.”

Hays grumbles with a long roll of his light blue eyes. “You’re telling me. Any idea what this thing was? It doesn’t match anything I know of.”

Heccaeh shakes his head of chaotic, shoulder length tan hair, and frowns. “No clue. The robots seem like your typical old era construction droids. Though, it looked like they were sent in from different locations. Chelindia wanted to check a suspicion we both had and should be back soon.”

From the shadowy woods, a woman with shiny, long coppery hair steps between tall brush and waves to Hays and Heccaeh. With an acknowledging tip of his hat, Hays calls out. “Did you find anything, Chana?”

Chana brushes off her woodland colored utility shirt and cargo pants, and presents an uneasy frown on her light sun-tanned face. “Yes.”

She walks up to Hays and Heccaeh, retrieves her phone out of her pocket, and taps to video. Both Hayes and Heccaeh stare at the screen and watch a recording of a large, fallen branch with specks of black flames flickering. After a few moments, Hays fights against an uncomfortable grit of his teeth and groans with a trailing growl. “Shit... That’s not a good sign. I doubt that was the only spot you found.”

Chana shakes her head, puts the aetherphone away, and rests her hands on her hips. “No. But, I’ve gotten a good feel on how to sense them out. I should be able find all the spots for clean up... If we need to.”

Hays cocks his head to the side, crosses his arms, and taps his fingers upon the chassis of his cybernetic arm. “If we need to?”

Glancing down the swath of forest destruction, Chana motions to the sides of the divide plowed into the trees and contorts her face. “The traces I found were getting weaker by the minute. A few specks of the energy I found had completely dissipated by the time I came back to check again. It’s really strange. It just didn’t feel... stable?”

A quick series of whistles sound out in the area. Jumping down from the high canopy, Chelindia cushions her graceful landing upon a swell of air and magic flow. She stands up, tosses back her dark green braided hair, and gazes at the team with her turquoise eyes. With a calm smile on her dark tan face, she brushes off her her ranger outfit and walks to the team. “Our suspicions were correct, Heccaeh.”

She addresses Hays and Chana. “It seems that while the paths the construction robots took to the convention center were scattered and wandering, they originated from a central point.”

Hays nods understandingly and quirks his brow with intrigue. “I’m guessing that this central point wouldn’t be too far from the path our big monster took through the trees.”

Chelindia glances down the valley of toppled trees between the forest, returns her attention to Hays, and frowns. “It’s very close.”

A faint smile curls the corner of her mouth. “I saw Ralli and Orrento fly by on their way back from their scouting, and noticed how close they were to me flying down that path.”

Heccaeh blinks a moment, narrows his stare up into the late afternoon sky above, and twists his mouth. “Wait, you said they already flew past you? Where the hell are they?”

A humored smirk appears on Chelindia’s face and she chuckles lightly. “They might be eating right now. I saw a protellow patch along the way.”

Chana snorts and rolls her copper eyes. “Yeah, I walked past that one, too. It had the sweet flowers in full bloom.”

Drooping his furry ears, Heccaeh steps out from the group with irritated wags of his medium length, thin tail. He blows a shrill whistle between his fingers. “RALLI! ORRENTO! BACK NOW!”

Hays, Chana, and Chelindia share a moment of amusement as they observe the Heccaeh sternly wait. Seconds later, a thought weighs upon Chelindia and she turns to face Hays. “Captain Hays?”

Focusing his attention to Chelindia, Hays cocks his head curiously. “Yes?”

Chelindia fights through a wave of uncertainty on her face and sighs with traces of regret. “While I do not want to cause too much unneeded worry, this incident reminds me of someone. The involvement of these robots and turning them on a populated area... It feels like the type of thing someone from... my past would do.”

Hays grants a confirming nod, tilts his head, and inquires further. “Who would that be? Do you think it is Meredosia?”

Chelindia’s eyes widen briefly, and she shakes her head quickly. “Oh, no! She would never direct an attack to convention center with civilians. She preferred challenges. But...”

Furrowing her brow, she narrows her turquoise eyes towards Hays. “I believe the one who taught her more about golems would have done this. Despite his knowledge about magic, he always seemed more inclined towards technology... and using it against people.”

Hays frowns slightly, brushes his long, black beard, and lifts an inquisitive eyebrow. “Well, any information you have would be appreciated. If you got a name and description, I call up Captain Hackle and we’ll see if he’s on their radar.”

Chelindia bows slightly and musters up a thankful smile. “I had very limited dealings with him, but I’ll try to remember all I can from my interactions. The only name I ever heard him called was Lexattican.”

Hays smiles appreciatively and sighs with a trace of hope. “Well, we’ll see. Captain Hackle was mentioning some similarities with certain incidents. So, anything you can provide would be great for his investigation.”

A few muted swears in fvalian trail into the conversation. Hays, Chelindia, and Chana watch Heccaeh wave in a dark blue and a brown striped pair of whelps. The two land on Heccaeh’s outstretched arms and roost innocently. Narrowing his lavender eyes between the traces of guilt upon the shiny whelp faces, Heccaeh shakes his head and groans. “By the gods, you two are covered in nectar! Did you two try to lick yourself clean right after you ate?! I’m going to have to give you two bath!”

Upon the word “bath” leaving Heccaeh’s lips, the Ralli and Orrento whine pleadingly while affectionately rubbing their faces against Heccaeh’s and crawling close. He rushes over to the ranger jeep meters away and groans out. “Oh, stop it! You two are wiping it all over me now!”

Hays glances up the late afternoon, tips his wide brimmed hate, and pivots towards the vehicle in the distance. “Well, let’s report what we know and get this area cordoned off. Hopefully, there isn’t too much left to clean up tonight.”

Hays, Chana, and Chelindia move towards the jeep, while Heccaeh wrangles whelps into carriers on the back of the jeep.

As night darkens the skies above through the convention center skylights, the two teams lounge around the open space of the main hall. Standing between the different bubbles of conversation, Trakenthin glances around and relaxes his shoulders. “I think it has calmed down.”

Shayuri nods in agreement, notices her hand gripping Trakenthin’s great sword, and hoists it up. “Yeah... Oh, um... Before I walk off with this, here’s your sword back.”

Trakenthin blinks to attention, takes the blade back into his possession, and chuckles with a goofy grin. “Oh! Yes. Thank you. You did good. You have been trained well.”

Fluttering her piercing hazel eyes, Shayuri smirks and combs back stray locks of long, silvery hair. “If you say so. I was just swinging and hoping for the best really. But, thank you, for letting me use it.”

A wave of excitement radiates through her and she squirms slightly with a smile. “I mean, it was totally insane and dangerous today... But, it was really cool! I’ve NEVER done anything like it. I can see why you do it.”

Averting his gaze away with a flit of embarrassment, Trakenthin scratches the back of his head of short, dirty blonde hair and awkwardly grips the collar of his armor. “It was tense. I am happy we are safe. Would not say it is like this often. Still exciting. Not as dangerous. More variety.”

A grin grows on Shayuri’s tan face, and she giggles with a roll of her piercing hazel eyes. “I just can imagine what other job there are out there. But, I don’t know if I could do it all the time like you do. I mean, I don’t know when I would find time to read between all the excitement.”

Trakenthin shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly, cracks a genuine smile, and gazes at Shayuri. “You find time. When you are not swinging a sword. Long night watches are a good time to catch up.”

He ponders quietly a moment, glances up at the dark night skies through the skylights, and tilts his head curiously at Shayuri. “Oh! Do you want me to walk you out? I do not want to keep you from going home.”

Shayuri blinks back to awareness, thinks briefly, and smiles coyly. “Right! Um, thank you for the offer. But, gods, I’ve already taken so much of your time and you probably need to get back to your team. It’s been really fun. And, I wouldn’t mind doing something similar again.”

Trakenthin chuckles lightly and nods in agreement. “Yes. Not like today.”

Quickly shaking her head, Shayuri giggles and smirks. “No. Of course not. A normal, boring convention, please.”

Standing next to a decorative planter in the middle of the hall, Sotalia and Tassilda chat. As Trakenthin and Shayuri say their goodbyes, Tassilda glances around Sotalia and narrows her light blue on black eyes attentively. Sotalia blinks, pivots herself around slightly, and directs her voice to Tassilda. “What are you looking at?”

Tassilda twists her gray face, flexes her long, black nailed fingers, and quirks her brow. “Trying to see if Trakenthin and her finally made a move on the other.”

Crossing her arms, Sotalia cracks an intrigued grin and glances back at Tassilda. “Oh? So, there’s a little something between those two?”

As Shayuri walks away with a wave to Trakenthin, Tassilda nods and squints. “Gods, you can tell he either doesn’t know what to do or he’s just doubting himself too much. But, I’m hoping that-”

Trakenthin turns around from returning a wave to Shayuri, maintains a smiles for a few more moments, and gradually curls a longing frown. Tassilda sighs with a grimace, shakes her head, and guides her raven hair over her swirling horns. “No. I can’t let this stand. Not after today. I’ll be back in a few minutes. I need to make this happen.”

Sotalia narrows her golden eyes, grins devilishly, and tosses back her wavy, fiery orange hair. “Mind if I tag along? I got a little experience in helping fate along.”

Tassilda smiles eagerly, nods, and steps forward. “Let’s what we can do.”

As Tassilda and Sotalia depart, Cideeda kneels down next to the remains of a construction bot. She carefully inspects the design of the machine and aims an aetherphone flashlight into the cavity beyond the maintenance panel. “Any guesses on how old these things are?”

Chad squats down, peeks inside the chassis, and wipes grime off an information panel. “Well, definitely nothing Pre-Cataclysm or First Period. Either it wouldn’t work or everything would have decayed.”

Flicking her furry ears, Cideeda narrows her emerald green eyes, hooks away some wiring with her claws, and contorts her light brown face in contemplation. “Yeah. I’m not feeling Second Period either.”

Searching his mind, Chad tilts his head to the side and ponders out loud. “Maybe REALLY late Second Period? But, most the tech I’ve ever seen salvaged wasn’t that advanced or it was magic with tech stuck onto it.”

Cideeda rolls her eyes, grits her sharp teeth, and groans. “Oh, gods. I’ve lost count at how many times I’ve found something that looked like honest Pre-Cataclysm tech and it was just some random magical artifact with a tech facade. I could kill whoever started that fad.”

Chad nods in agreement and commiserates with a grumble. “The amount of equipment my mom and dad had to turn down because of crap like that...”

Nearby, Sebastian hovers next to Aristespha, and Deedri and Modoran keep an arm around the other. A warm, genuine smile grows on Aristespha’s ivory face, and her violet eyes gaze between Deedri and Modoran. “I can’t imagine the relief you must have experienced to finally just say you two are together. It had to have been a huge weight off your shoulders.”

Deedri flutters her auburn eyes, leans onto Modoran as her tail wraps around his leg, and exhales with a smirk. “It does make it easier. I don’t have to come up with some new questionably medical reason for him to come to my bedroom.”

Modoran gently rubs Deedri’s shoulder and chuckles with a nonchalant grin on his dusky, bluish gray face. “Yeah. Still don’t know how the Evuukian Houses are going to handle everything that’s happened.”

While Sebastian’s ethereal form hovers in place, he crosses his arms and perks his brow. “But, you are technically not part of any house. So, that means there’s nothing they can do to you?”

With a sly smirk, Modoran nods in agreement at Sebastian and laughs. “Exactly. I get to sit back and watch the fallout happen to someone else. I wish them luck, because their grandfather just assumed head of the house.”

Aristespha’s violet eyes spring wide open, and she cocks her head to the side in shock. “Wait, so, Kallentesson is no longer in charge? And... His brother is head of the-”

She covers her mouth, searches her mind, and blinks blankly with a few evuukian phrases. After a few moments, she lifts her brow and draws in a long breath. “May the gods have mercy upon them, because I’m not sure anyone else will.”

Deedri glances between Aristespha and Modoran. She gazes up to Modoran, tilts her head curiously to the side, and flicks her furry ears in thought. “What is the whole story on this person? I’ve only heard bits and pieces.”

Sebastian nods to Deedri and returns his attention back to Aristespha and Modoran. “Yeah, I’m a little curious, too. This sounds like this guy has made a career out of being... something big.”

Modoran and Aristespha exchange glances. Aristespha sniffs a breath through her nose and wrestles with the topic. “Truthfully, it is quite difficult to pick a place to start talking about him.”

While Deedri and Sebastian listen to the explanation from Modoran and Aristespha, Bach adjusts the rolled up towel underneath his head as he lays on a bench. Fighting off a long yawn, he gazes over to Dretphi standing nearby, furrows his brow, and ponders out loud. “Okay, so what is the deal with that character? He just shows up out of nowhere half the time. And, it’s usually the ONLY time you see him on screen with lines. He drops some vague but oddly relevant wisdom... Then, he’s gone!”

Dretphi crosses her red armor cover arms, leans against the low wall of center aisle decoration, and rocks her head side to side. After a bit of deliberation, she contorts her tan face, grits her teeth briefly, and sighs. “It is complicated. That archetype is a trope in Grath stories.”

She brushes back platinum blonde braids over her shoulder and plays with the darker end of one with her hand. Searching her mind for the words, she perks her brow and gazes down at Bach with a smirk. “Many Grath words for it. A translation to Americ is silent bomb.”

As Bach tilts his head and furrows his brow with growing intrigue, Dretphi pulls a long breath through her nose and explains. “The archetype hints the new direction. It is the responsibility of the receiver to act upon the wisdom. The silent bomb leaves. No longer needed.”

Blinking out the fatigue in his blue eyes, Bach ponders a few thoughts on his face and narrows his inquisitive stare. He drums his fingers on his stomach. “Okay... Drops the information that’s needed, then slips quietly into the background.”

He quirks an eyebrow and smirks intrigued. “But, I swear I’ve seen almost that same person across a few different shows. Is it the same template the writers are using? Like some kind of common theme?”

Dretphi nods in conformation and smiles humored. “Oh. Yes. Sometimes it is the same character.”

Cocking his head to the side, Bach tugs at the corner of his mouth and sorts through his confusion. “Like the same exact character? Even in a different world and time period?”

Nodding slowly, Dretphi smirks with a shrug. She giggles softly and rolls her steely gray eyes. “Yes. Despite how out of place it may seem. Does warn you that a significant moment will happen. It is an old tradition. We accept it. Some expect it.”

Bach twists his mouth, darts his eyes around his mind, and hums in contemplation. “Well, it does the job. Every time I see someone like him on screen, I’m just waiting to see what he says or does.”

A warm smile grows on Dretphi’s face and she recounts another aspect of Grath literature. At a distance from the conversation, Trakenthin blinks back to awareness and glances around. He sifts through the different discussions, and catches bits of grath terminology drifting from between Dretphi and Bach. Piquing his interest, intrigue rises in Trakenthin’s dark bronze face and he starts to focus upon the far off voices. From behind Trakenthin, Shayuri speaks up with hints of embarrassment. “Hey, Trakenthin?”

Trakenthin’s hazel eyes spring wide open, and he pivots around with a surprised, awkward smirk. “Shayuri?! Yes? Oh. Anything wrong? Do you need help getting out?”

Shayuri presents a smile with a flutter of her piercing hazel eyes and brushes back some of her silvery hair. “Um, somewhat. Could I borrow your aetherphone? I’d just want to check to see if mine is working right and call it.”

Patting around his armor, Trakenthin nervous fumbles around until he remembers where his phone and hands the device over. “Certainly. There has been serious disruption in service. Localized even. There might be lingering problems.”

Staring down the hall, a train of thought distracts him away from watching Shayuri. He gestures as he recounts recent memory. “Signals dropped out that direction early today...”

Shayuri quickly flips through the menus of the phone and halts upon screen. Her eyes flit wide with recognition at a very familiar book review aethernet site. A flush of color fills her tan cheeks. Glancing around through a surge of coyness, she continues through to find the dialing interface. Tapping in a series of numbers, she presses the confirmation button on the display. Moments later, an elaborate chime rings out from her pocket. As Shayuri retrieves her phone, Trakenthin cracks an interested smirk and gazes at the source of the music. “A good series.”

Shayuri blinks with a delighted smile as she checks her phone. “To be honest, I just started watching.”

Trakenthin nods and chuckles lightly. “It is a good adaptation. Author was consulted. Added more details.”

When Shayuri hands him back his aetherphone, he cocks his head to the side and inquires. “Your phone works properly?”

Shayuri rolls her piercing hazel eyes, shrugs her shoulders, and sighs. “I guess so. I’ve been trying to call the numbers for the production company and file a few justified complaints.”

With an understanding groan, Trakenthin shakes his head of short, dirty blonde hair and grimaces. “They are busy. Deserve all the complaints. May need to try other numbers.”

Gazing into Trakenthin’s eyes, Shayuri smiles brightly and perks her eyebrow. “Yeah... Speaking of which...”

She holds up her phone with a new contact entry and winks with a grin. “You should save that number, because I’m saving yours.”

Trakenthin blinks blankly. Moment pass and the significance fails to grip his mind. With a bright blush in his cheeks and a goofy smile breaking through any semblance of his stoic facade, Trakenthin stumbles upon his words. “Oh- Uh- Um... Yes. Of course.”

He remembers some context of current situation and scratches the back of his head. “Do you want me to walk you out? Asked before. Want to make sure...”

A smile grows on Shayuri and she motions towards the hall. “You know, I think I wouldn’t mind someone to walk with. Given what happened today, this empty convention center feels pretty creepy right now.”

Delight brightens Trakenthin demeanor, and he chuckles. “Understandable. I would not want to do the same.”

He glances around towards the teams and finds Tassilda and Sotalia meeting his searching gaze. After a moment of confusion, he focuses back on task and motions towards the exit hallway. “Escorting her out. I will be back-”

Tassilda waves Trakenthin on with a simple motion and nod. As Trakenthin and Shayuri depart, Sotalia leans close Tassilda and whispers with an impish grin. “I have to admit the broken phone check wasn’t bad. Good idea on your part.”

Resting her chin on a curled finger, Tassilda smirks proudly and laughs quietly. “Oh, but her adding that last line about saving the number was good. She made sure he knew it wasn’t a coincidence.”

Sotalia smiles smugly. “He was completely dumbfounded.”

Through the blinds over a window, the stars twinkle upon the late evening backdrop. A comedy show plays on the mounted television screen. Vital statistics and graphs chart out upon different hospital systems next to a medical bed. Staring distantly towards the mounted display, Veevi remains quiet and still. Her pink pupil eyes blink and her gaze remains ahead. With each subdued, slow breath, her concentration shifts to another painful thought. With the occasional twitch of her cheek, a mild frown deepens and she cringes with fresh regret from old memory. She eases out a long sigh and combs the unkempt pink hair away from her darkened, exhausted eyes. Holding the palm of her hand upon her forehead, she grits her sharp teeth as painful thoughts hold her full attention. Drawing in a stiff breath through her nose, she hisses out a remorseful sigh through her teeth.

Limply flopping her arm from her head upon the plain bed sheet, Veevi musters her focus and directs her full attention to the television. Minutes pass as the comedy plays out on the screen. Veevi’s fuzzy ears perk and listen to the faint audio. An upwards curl at the corner of her mouth hints her enjoyment. The programs fades to a commercial break. Moments later, an advertisement for the Next Adventurers of Nexus starts. Veevi’s eye twitches with the familiar notes and tag lines. Upon the screen a video segment featuring her plays out. The clip highlights bold and audacious moments with audio stingers and video effects. As she watches the segment continue, waves of discomfort radiate through Veevi’s body. The hints of a previous smile wear away with each second to a deeper frown. The mean-spirited words in Veevi’s voice drive her fuzzy ears to droop down. The flash cuts of Veevi lashing and acting out upon the television force her searching gaze towards a nearby table. Her tan and brown-striped arm reaches out for the remote. Her hand snatches the device clear of the table, and she takes aim with the power button firmly pressed.

The display turns off and the quiet, peaceful ambiance fills the room again. Settling back upon the hospital bed, Veevi rests her head upon the pillow and eases out a worn sigh. Drawing the covers over her body, she positions her arm to a comfortable position despite the cumbersome medical lines secured. She gazes around the dimly lit room and stares up to the plain ceiling tiles above. Fatigue weighs upon her eyes. Veevi releases a long breath and allows her body to calm. Her pink pupil eyes close, her fuzzy ears relax, and head settles upon the pillow. She drifts closer and closer to unconsciousness. Her breath slows, her head tilts to the side, and tension fades.

The heart rate monitor speeds up. Veevi squirms in the discomfort. A sharp frown appears on her face. As Veevi springs up to seat in the bed, the vital tracker beeps out an alarm. Gripping the hospital gown around her chest with her sharp nails, Veevi gasps in panicked horror. In the moments of frantic breathing and wincing in pain, a few medical staff quickly enter the room. Each goes through well rehearsed procedures. Vitals are checked, equipment inspected, and Veevi is examined. After diagnostic questions, a tired and apologetic Veevi sheepishly chuckles. “I’m sorry... I- I- uh... Scared myself a bit with a bad dream... Again. Nothing to worry about...”

An older woman in neat and clean medical attire finishes a careful read of a clipboard and aims a stoic stare upon Veevi. Her examining eyes trace the many subtle motions and falterings in Veevi’s demeanor. When Veevi notices the attention and gazes up to her, the older woman slides a chair in the room close to the bed and sits down. Straightening her posture, the woman observes Veevi and draws a breath in. “Ms. Valiant. I am Dr. Blackwell. I’ve been serving at this facility for many years. And, I have seen many patients that have been sent into my care for countless reasons.”

Dr. Blackwell tilts her head of tied back gray hair, narrows her gaze, and stiffens her upper lip. “So, you will have to excuse me, if I’m not inclined to believe that there is nothing to worry about.”

Veevi quirks her dark pink eyebrow and slightly tilts her head to the side. Dr. Blackwell calmly explains. “You were brought here with nearly collapsed lungs from internal bleeding. After having your chest cavity practically crushed by some mechanical monster I still yet have to get a proper description of. Judging by the broken ribs and other soft tissue injuries, you are extremely fortunate to be here.”

She narrows an examining stare at Veevi with comforting hint in her voice. “I don’t know of anyone who could go through that with nothing to worry about. I’m not ignorant of your professional persona, and what you like to present to others.”

A scowl weighs Veevi’s face and she crosses her arms with a hint of snarl of her upper lip. Dr. Blackwell relaxes her posture faintly and speaks softer. “That aspect does not matter to me. I am here to help the person. So, when I ask you this next question, I want you to know that I am speaking to the woman before me at this moment.”

Flit of confusion trickles into Veevi’s expression and she blinks blankly as intrigue and expectation rise in her demeanor. Dr. Blackwell stoic face softens and she inquires with genuine concern. “Do you want help?”

Veevi fuzzy ears flick back and her stare narrows at Dr. Blackwell. A defiant surge bubbles up as her posture grows rigid. A snarl starts to lift her upper lip. Drawing in a breath, a familiar tone readies to launch out from Veevi’s mouth.

Seconds of silence pass. The tone fades away. A frown drags the snarl into oblivion. Veevi’s form sags as the urge to lash out fizzles into nothing. As her focus upon Dr. Blackwell wanes, Veevi releases her arms from their tight wrap around her chest. While aimlessly wandering through her thoughts, she gazes down upon the palms of her trembling hands and sniffs in a few shaky breaths. Drawing in a long gasp, she reflexively winces and holds her chest. She closes her darkened, worn eyes.

Veevi returns her attention to Dr. Blackwell with tears trailing down her face, and sighs sadly. “Yes.”

Dr. Blackwell nods, leans close, and softly comforts. “Good. Then, that’s what we shall do.”

Through a lull in her sobs, Veevi meekly squeaks out. “Thank you...”

Samantha paces around a cluttered living room between open crates of recording equipment and searches her annoyed gaze between different members of the crew. “Okay! What do we have?! We literally had a horde of robots attack us. We need to figure out what we recorded.”

A random crewman grumbles with an annoyed, dismissive tone. “I got fucking nothing... Because I was trying not to DIE.”

With her arms crossed, another woman growls out. “Yeah, I don’t know. I might look for something, AFTER I recover from nearly getting ripped apart by psychotic robots! What the fuck bullshit are we signed up for?!”

Gripping her clipboard tightly, Samantha grits her teeth uneasily and hems loudly with a weak smile. “This was just a terrible mishap. Just a fluke, a random fluke-”

A loud male voice spits out. “OH, FUCK YOU!”

A gruff, muscular emin narrows his red on black eyes and snorts. “The hell do you call it when that possessed drone started hunting us through the gods damned woods? Incidental extreme hiking?!”

Lounging upon the couch with her feet propped on an equipment crate, an older grath woman snarls her upper lip with a focused glare upon Samantha. “The golem attack.”

A cacophony of angered grumbles sound out into a drone of commiserating complaints. A fvalian woman with short purple hair gestures with curling, clawed fingers. “And let’s not forget those cyber fucking zombies in that SUPPOSEDLY empty ruin!”

Samantha raises her voice, energetically waves out for everyone’s attention, and addresses the irritated crowd. “Every time we’ve run into unexpected dangers, Howard has provided everyone with leave and double hazard pay. We are compensating you the best we-”

The fvalian woman grits her sharp teeth, narrows her stare, and belts out a string of furious fvalian expletives. With an amused grin, the gruff, muscular emin spouts out different dialects of emin and cackles. “You want me to record THAT for Howard, or you want the transcription?! It’s real nice, I can promise, like you do!”

With a rolling growl, the older grath woman hisses a few choice grath words. Some other members wince and a few grath cringe and shudder. The man taps the shoulder of grath man next to him. “What did she say?”

The grath man blinks blankly, hisses a breath in through his teeth, and leans down. He whispers into the man’s ear behind his hand. Springing his eyes wide, the man reflexively wretches and coughs in psychological disgust. “Oh... Gods... You guys have a word for just THAT?!”

Samantha stiffens up her posture, draws in a long breath, and launches in a defensive explanation. While the speech falls upon the irate crowd, Gerald glances around, slinks back from the outer perimeter of the gathering, and walks up the stairs. He slowly plods up the stairwell to the first landing and then approaches a narrower set of steps. Ascending the path, he shakes his head to the thoughts going through his mind and sighs. Stepping into the small, upstairs bed room, he approaches the bed, glances over it, and flops upon it. Remaining still for minutes, his distant attention drifts and he stares outside through the balcony doors to the bright noon sky and green forest canopy along the horizon.

Blinking through the moments, he rolls over on the bed, stares up at the ceiling, and releases a long sigh. His arm flops off the side and his hand lands upon a camera bag. Patting the worn and weathered bag, Gerald unzips the top and rests his hand upon the professional grade still camera inside. Carefully lifting out the device, he inspects the photography equipment. Setting the machine aside on the bed, he reaches out for the laptop upon a nearby desk. Opening the lid, he rests the computer upon his chest and opens up a gallery app.

The application opens up and rows of thumbnails fill the screen. A smile emerges on Gerald’s face as he scrolls through the rows of photos with obvious recognition. After rolling through pages of preview images, he selects a picture. The display shows a close up shot of a wild whelp looking into the camera nose first with inquisitive eyes. A chuckle escapes Gerald and his hand feels the old, small sets of claw marks upon the lens chassis. As his fingers explore the physical mementos, his mind wanders.

Flits of discomfort rise up in his face, and his dark brown eyes venture through uncertainty. Running his hands through his short, dark blonde hair, he closes his eyes tightly and eventually mutters. “If not now... Then, when?”

Pulling in a long breath through his nose, he exhales and opens his eyes. Placing his hands on the laptop keyboard, he stiffens his upper lip, opens up a word processing program, and sets the cursor upon a blank page. With a surge of determination, his fingers type.

“This letter is to inform that I will be terminating my employment at the end of the current season.”