Episode 113

Fluttering his blue eyes open, Bach glances around the living area from the couch. He pulls himself up to a seat from laying, and wipes the early morning sleep from his eyes. He notices Aristespha, Sebastian, and Sotalia sitting at the dining table. Getting up to his feet, he wanders past the gathering and inquires groggily. “Is there any coffee left?”

Aristespha perks her very long, pointed ears, gazes up from her tablet, and motions through the bar window. “There should be plenty left.”

Holding a mug close to hide her face, Sotalia smirks humored and quips with a golden glance. “Couch comfortable?”

Bach rolls his eyes and sighs while searching for a clean cup. “Yeah. I guess I’m still recovering from throwing that ball at... whatever the hell kind of nightmare that was.”

An annoyed huff slips out before Sotalia takes a long sip of her coffee, and she narrows her stare at Bach. “I REALLY wish I could have seen that spell in action.”

Noticing the attention, Bach averts his gaze and awkwardly grins. “Uh, yeah... Sorry about that. Sort of an in the moment thing. I’ll try to make sure you are around for the next one.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form blinks his eyes in thought and cocks his head to the side at Bach. “So, bro... That nightmare thing... The energy inside it reacted like the Nightmare Geist’s?”

Pausing from browsing between different things to mix into his brew, Bach glances over to Sebastian nods with an uneasy twist of his mouth. “Yes. That black energy was neutralized with elder energy. So, I’d say it’s the same stuff as a Nightmare Geist’s. The golem components and robotics is still weird, though.”

He furrows his brow under the stray white streak and scratches the back of his head of longer brown hair. “Can’t say if I’d call it a prototype or an attempt to recreate one?”

Tapping her fingers upon her ceramic cup, Aristespha dons a slight frown on her ivory, blue and gray hinted face. She pulls in a slow breath through her nose and tosses back her long, silvery blue hair. “Needless to say, its existence is very troublesome. And, it would be good to track down where it came from exactly.”

Sebastian nods in agreement with a smile to Aristespha and ponders out loud. “I agree, dear. That wasn’t a normal robot by any stretch. Even old security droids aren’t that scary looking.”

He glances around to Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia and cracks an intrigued grin. “I bet it was some kind of guardian for some kind of ancient place. With that mix of magic, tech, and nightmare power... It might have been some kind of Second Period creation.”

Sotalia idly taps her long, black nails upon her mug, and contorts her face thoughtfully. “I would expect something like that to protect SOMETHING of importance. It’s strange that it left whatever it may have been guarding.”

Walking up to the dining table, Bach pulls out a chair and sits down. “Well, if those other robots mean anything, it could be that whoever reprogrammed those also reprogrammed the big one.”

Curling an irritated frown, Sotalia perks her brow and eyes Aristespha. “Any word if Noxian wandered back this way?”

Aristespha blinks her violet eyes to attention from reading her tablet and shakes her head. “No. Captain Hackle’s reports from GAA patrols state that he hasn’t made any known efforts to go back into GAA territory.”

Lifting an uncertain eyebrow at Sotalia, Bach finishes a sip of his light shade of coffee and tilts his head. “And... This doesn’t feel like something Noxian would do.”

Sotalia briefly meets Bach’s gaze with scrutiny and eventually softens to an agreeable smirk. “Yeah. You’re right. He’s usually sneakier and wouldn’t want to give himself away that easily. Also...”

She grits her teeth briefly in begrudging acceptance and lifts a her cup of coffee to her mouth. “He wouldn’t carelessly endanger innocent people. He’s got... SOME standards.”

With a long roll of her golden eyes, she puffs a stray lock of her fiery orange, wavy hair away and drinks her coffee. Aristespha taps a message open on her tablet and traces the words with her violet eyes. After a few moments, she cracks a smile and rests her chin on the back of her hand. “Interesting. It seems that Captain Hays and his team would like to have lunch with us. Today, if possible. He mentions that they found some information during their clean up we might deem useful.”

Sebastian smirks eagerly. “Nice, dear. We’ll definitely have to take them on the offer. I’ll be a good excuse to catch up and compare notes.”

Stopping mid sip, Bach pulls his mug away from and glances between Aristespha and Sebastian. “Yeah... We might be careful about what we tell them. I mean, I don’t know what they might do if they knew certain details.”

Nodding to his brother, Sebastian’s visage grants a comforting smile. “Totally understand, bro. We’ll see what they tell us first and screen what we provide them. No sense in confirming anything they might already suspect.”

Aristespha quirks her brow and gazes at Bach with a reassuring tone. “From my exchanges with Captain Hays, it seems he’s more interested in giving us information and getting his job done. I doubt he is much for inquisitions and would be happy enough knowing the problem will be taken care of.”

Bach contorts an uneasy expression on his face and sighs with hints of reservation. “Yeah. I guess out of the two captains, I’m okay with Hays. Captain Hackle on the other hand-”

With a knowing nod to Bach, Aristespha draws in a breath through her nose and twists her mouth. “I have been very careful in the details I give to him. I always get the impression there’s a bit more going on with him.”

The back sliding glass door opens up wide and Cideeda steps in with a toothy grin. She jots down a few more notes onto a small pad of paper and flicks her furry ears in thought. “So, I think rechambering and trimming the barrels will get the weight manageable. Then, we can see how many parts we can substitute for lightweight polymer and tune in the rate of fire.”

Behind Cideeda, Dretphi carefully slips through carrying the old security robot minigun and hoists heavy weaponry up in her tensed arms. She gazes upon the machine with an eager glint in her steely gray eyes and cradles the weapon. After a few moments, she glances down at Cideeda with a faint frown on her tan face. “Can the fire rate be selected?”

Cideeda’s furry ears perk and she raps her claw tips upon the chassis of the weapon. “Maybe. First, let’s get some proper handles on it from the measurements we took. Then, we can see if you can handle the recoil.”

Puffing up her chest, Dretphi glances off to the side, squeezes the machinery in her arms, mutters to herself. “I can handle it.”

Rolling her emerald green eyes playfully, Cideeda presents a toothy grin on her light brown face and motions Dretphi to follow. “I’m sure you can. Let’s get it comfortable to hold and lighter, first.”

She gazes over to the dining table and furrows her brow curiously with a wag of her tail. “What’s this meeting for?”

Sebastian pivots above his seat and smiles. “Just talking about stuff. Captain Hays wants to meet up for lunch and update us on what they’ve found.”

Cideeda cracks a devious smirk. “Have they said where?”

Aristespha blinks, searches her thoughts, and glances down at her tablet. “He actually did not mention a place. So, he might take a suggestion.”

A smile curls on Cideeda’s face and she eagerly suggests. “Fval Spice, then. Maybe he’ll treat us with some of that discretionary budget he probably has.”

Aristespha searches between the assembled team for opinions. Dretphi nods and glances down at the minigun. “I would be okay with that. I have not had time to cook today. Been... preoccupied.”

Bach and Sotalia nod in agreement, and Sebastian shrugs indifferently. Aristespha gazes down at her tablet, opens up a reply prompt, and starts to type out a message. “That sounds acceptable to me. I’ll send him a message now, and we’ll see if he’s okay with it.”

The door to the single bed motel room opens up and Mera steps in. She guides the door behind her to a close. She slowly walks to her bed and flops down a stack of different information packets. Lifting up a notebook into view, she flips through a few pages and studies her notes. Dropping onto the bed, she sorts through the different rental advertisements and arranges them out on the sheets. Glancing over the colorful documents, she wanders her crimson eyes over the selection and mulls over the options before her. She bites her lip in deliberation, plucks one flyer from the stack, and swaps it with another.

Combing her ivory fingers through her long gray hair, Mera narrows her gaze between the bits of text on the pieces of paper and sighs. After a moment, a faint growl sounds out from her stomach and she places her hand on her belly. Her eyes wander over to an alarm clock and realizes the just after noon time. Picking herself off the bed, she steps over to a small refrigerator, and opens the freezer. Her eyes dart between boxes of frozen dinners and her faint frown grows with her distaste. Rapping her finger tips on the freezer door, she slowly closes the compartment and stands back up straight. Twisting her mouth, she eases out a slow, long sigh and wanders her attention around the room.

After a few seconds, her focus rests upon a stack of Fval Spice menus. With a long pause, her eyes search in her mind, and Mera chuckles to herself with a musing in Evuukian. Tapping her finger upon a menu, she drags the tip down the list of items and stops at one. A faint frown tempers her desires and she glances over to the small refrigerator. Upon the fridge door, a color pencil drawing on white paper catches Mera’s attention. A happy smile curls out the corner of her mouth as she gazes upon the three small fvalian caricatures with black ears and a taller evuukian figure with red eyes and gray hair.

Mera shifts her gaze at the Fval Spice menus, nods with a smirk at a particular menu item, and walks towards the door.

In a small shopping strip near an intersection, the glass door to Fval Spice opens. Captain Hays steps out, moves the side, and holds the door open. Chana, Heccaeh, and Chelindia exit the store front and walk towards the ranger jeep. Dropping down the back tail gate, Heccaeh lifts up a light colored tarp off two pet carriers and sets two take out boxes in front of the cages. “Ralli. Orrento. Wake up, time for lunch.”

After unlocking the doors, a dark blue whelp and a brown stripped whelp stick their heads out. Each sniffs a paper tray of extra greasy stir fried rice and hungrily plunges head first into the meal. Hays checks inside and continues to hold the door open for Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia. The teams gather around the ranger jeep. Cideeda glances up to Hays with a toothy grin and a wag of her long tail. “Thanks for getting the bill.”

Captain Hays tips his wide brimmed hat and smirks. “Not a problem. Let’s just say a few groups appreciate what you’ve done. And, I’m glad some folks I knew were on the scene to make a difference.”

Resting her hands on her hips, Aristespha smiles appreciatively and sighs with hints of uncertainty. “Thank you for the information.”

A faint frown curls at the corner of Hay’s mouth and he hums. “Yeah. Sorry it’s just a vague direction we’ve been able to narrow down. I just hope Hackle might have a bit more to go on. But, I thought I’d pass what I knew along. You know, just in case you had some other clues.”

From the sword at Aristespha’s side, Sebastian’s voice resonates out. “I think we’ve had a few coordinates that showed up that direction. We haven’t checked them out yet, because... Well, we couldn’t find much to cross reference them against. So, we just thought they were outliers?”

Bach shrugs his shoulders and sighs. “Yeah. Well, they might not be outliers anymore with recent events.”

Chana perks her brow and crosses her arms with a focused gaze at Bach. “We’ll definitely check central records for anything that’s occurred near any locations you all send us. There might be something hidden that could be useful.”

With an awkward grin, Bach nods to Chana and shifts his attention to watching Dretphi and Sotalia play with the two whelps, Ralli and Orrento.

A fvalian woman with brown furry ears and long, braided black hair leads a trio of sisters towards the entrance of Fval Spice. Katelli and Natashalli quickly follow behind their mother through the door, but Jesselli halts before entering. Her brown eyes catch a glimpse of Chelindia and she stares with a tilt of her head of braided black hair. Squinting and blinking her eyes, she steps closer to the group and waves to Chelindia. “Hey!”

After looking around confused, Chelindia meets Jesselli’s gaze and awkwardly waves back at the little girl. “Hello?”

Jesselli perks up her furry black ears and grins brightly. “Are you Chel?”

Chelindia’s turquoise eyes widen in moment of shock and she nervously chuckles. “Um... Uh... Yes. How did you know?”

With a happy smile, Jesselli wags her shorter, fluffier tail. “Mera told me. She draws nice pictures of you.”

A muffled voice sounds out from the other side of front glass door and she quickly waves as she slips in. “My mommy is calling me! Bye!”

After the fvalian girl goes inside, Chelindia stands up straight, silently and uneasily pivots to face the rest of the group. Captain Hays narrows his concern upon Chelindia and quiets his tone. “Is there something wrong?”

Chelindia swallows hard, shifts her focus between the assembled group, and exhales tensely. “That little girl knew Meredosia and my nicknames... for each other.”

Tension weighs down other conversations and the attention shifts to Chelindia. Aristespha narrows her stare at Chelindia and cocks her head to the side. “We’ve seen an evuukian woman that works here.”

With growing worry on her dark tan face, Chelindia grits her teeth and inquires. “What did she look like?”

Sotalia rests her hands on her hips and furrows her brow. “Red... Crimson eyes?”

Cideeda searches her mind briefly. “Long gray hair.”

Bach points to Aristespha’s bare arm. “Light skin, like hers.”

While processing the information, a surge of paranoia washes over Chelindia and she glances around the area expectantly. “That... That must be HER. She must have survived the assault... And, came here?”

Mera walks upon the sidewalk into view around the end of the building row. She glances up and pans her distant, idle stare across the parking lot. She halts and freezes in place. Gradually, she pivots her head to meet Chelindia’s gaze and widens her crimson eyes in pure shock. Chelindia steps forward, blinks in astonishment, and calls out. “Meredosia?!”

Meredosia back pedals and the word stumbles out of her trembling mouth. “C-C-Chelindia?!”

The two evuukian women stare at each other. Chelindia blinks her turquoise eyes, calmly holds her hand out, and starts to open her mouth. Meredosia shudders a breath out, steps back, and spins around into a full sprint away.

Meredosia runs upon the sidewalk past the dated, worn motel. She glances over to a door at the end the row, and grits her teeth. Noticing Chelindia distantly behind her, she sprints off into the nearby woods and scrambles through the brush. She quickly picks up speed in between the trees and disappears from view.

Chelindia gestures out a few incantations, swells up a surge of flow beneath her, and launches up into the trees. Dretphi and Cideeda reach the edge of the woods seconds later, motion to each other, and push through into forest. Above the gathering team, Ralli and Orrento flap up higher and zip over the canopy. Hays follows up behind Dretphi and Cideeda. Heccaeh trails behind while attentively watching the skies. Chana, Sotalia, Aristespha, and Bach ease their way past a dense barrier of bushes and join the chase.

Minutes later, Sebastian’s ethereal form phases through thinner branches of green canopy with specks of yellow and orange. He spots the pair of whelps circling above a moving target and points the direction out with a shout downwards. “That way!”

Sotalia nods, squints her golden eyes through the dense woods, and grimaces. “Damn, she can move fast through this crap!”

Chana hops over an old, fallen log, narrows her copper eyes ahead, and frowns her sun-tanned face. “Yeah. I hope she start doesn’t start hopping through the trees like Chelindia.”

Brushing off a few turning leaves out of her shiny, coppery hair, she glances over to Sotalia with hints of concern. “You feeling anything weird magically?”

Sotalia blinks to attention, sorts through her thoughts, and twists her mouth. “Yeah... It feels familiar?”

Further into the dense trees, Cideeda sniffs the air, perks her furry ears ahead, and points a claw tip in a direction. “I hear someone running across the ground through the leaves.”

Dretphi leaps effortlessly over a small boulder and ducks below low branch. “Not Chelindia?”

Keeping formation to the side, Hays keeps his wide-brimmed hat on his head while maneuvering through the natural obstacles along the trail and shakes his head quickly. “No, she’s up in the trees. You won’t hear her.”

Squinting ahead, Cideeda’s furry ears flick around the area and hunt for other sounds. After a few moments, she cracks an amused smirk. “Rustling leaves and shaking branches. That’s all I can hear. Not bad.”

Far beyond the shuddering of branches raining down loose autumn leaves, Meredosia slides down a drainage creek worn into a hill and forces another sprint. She gasps for breath and pants loudly as her speed wanes. Weaving between large rocks, tree trunks, and overgrown shrubs, her reserves drain faster with each moment. She glances up through the thinning canopy and meets the attentive stares of two whelps keeping pace with her above. Ralli and Orrento chirp and bark out different fvalian words while watching Meredosia rush through the woods. Meredosia’s focus snaps ahead and she panics at the thick, thorny brush ahead. She reflexively dives over the prickly shrub and rolls into a grassy clearing. Stumbling back up to her feet, Meredosia’s crimson eyes widen as she stares at the steep, rocky barrier ahead. Leaning forward into her pants, she desperately searches perimeter of the clearing. The whelps circling overhead distract her.

Meredosia pivots towards a cleared direction and rushes forward. Chelindia drops down from the treetops with a plume of cushioning flow, stands up calmly, and blocks Meredosia’s route. Spinning around to other escape options, Meredosia grits her teeth and snarls her upper lip at each new impasse showing up in each possible exit. Cideeda, Dretphi, Hays, Heccaeh, Chana, Sotalia, Aristespha, and Bach spread out around the perimeter of the clearing against the rocky, natural wall. Sebastian hovers overhead with Ralli and Orrento orbiting.

Tense, quiet seconds pass. Chelindia glances over to Hays with a pleading gaze. Hays grants a simple nod and motions everyone to stay back. Relaxing her posture, Chelindia steps towards Meredosia with calm, comforting tone. “Meredosia... I’m sorry that I startled you. Could we talk?”

Darting her crimson eyes between the different people surrounding the perimeter, Meredosia tosses back her long, gray hair, stiffly straightens her stature, and clenches her fists shakily. “Why would I want to talk to someone WHO ABANDONED ME! And, NOW you are leading squad to hunt me down!”

Chelindia winces at the comment, draws in a long breath, and focus her attention upon Meredosia’s ivory face. “I am sorry we had to find each other like this. I didn’t want to chase you like this, but...”

Meeting Meredosia’s manic, panicked glare, Chelindia’s turquoise gaze softens and a mix of sadness and relief colors her voice. “I thought you had been lost... to me... And, I didn’t want to lose you again...”

A surge of memory drains the furious facade surrounding Meredosia and uncertainty rattles the boldness in her voice. “It... It all f-fell apart after you left! Why did you LEAVE?!”

Closing her eyes briefly, Chelindia draws in a long breath, exhales, and gazes at Meredosia. “I could not support what you were doing anymore. We had good life in the ruins before.”

Meredosia settles her attention upon Chelindia, cocks her head to the side, and narrows her stare with manic peak in her tone. “We were just existing! No one knew of us or what we were about! Didn’t you want to accomplish more than that?!”

Stiffening her upper lip, Chelindia lifts up her head of braided, dark green hair, puffs up her chest sternly, and calmly pries. “Did YOU? I don’t remember you having those ambitions when we started. Only after HE talked to you.”

Her crimson eyes darting between uncomfortable memories, Meredosia shakes her head. She drags her trembling fingers through her hair and growls out. “It doesn’t matter! The first batch of golems were a success! We proved we could make them and everything was going good...”

After along pause, Meredosia’s stare grows distant and contorts into an enraged scowl. “Until that bastard Noxian came! He took our power and left us defenseless!”

Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia exchange perplexed glances. Trembles of sadness leak out in Meredosia’s tone and she frowns sharply. “If it wasn’t for him, we would still be able to defend ourselves from those attackers! I wouldn’t have been away from everyone while trying to regain... our power... to keep us safe...”

Chelindia pauses a moment to watch Meredosia’s facade crack. She sighs deeply, meets Meredosia’s gaze, and frowns somberly. “Meredosia... That attack happened because of the golems you sent.”

Blinking back to awareness, Meredosia narrows her confusion at Chelindia. With a solemn nod, Chelindia glances over to Hays. “He explained it to me after he heard about it.”

Hays steps out from cover, tips his hat respectfully, and calmly states. “Long story short, the GAA and Appaland have been watching your group for years. You were outside both territories, so no one really was motivated to care. Then, you sent those golems after the Chrome Crusaders. Appaland took it personally, since they have ties with them.”

He grits his teeth, hisses out a sigh, and shakes his head slowly. “They’re the ones behind the mechanized strike force that took out your group. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d been waiting for justification for a while. And...”

Leveling a stoic stare through Meredosia, Hays plainly states. “You gave it to them.”

Shock blanks the expression off of Meredosia’s ivory face. Her distant stare shifts from Hays to Chelindia, and settles back to Hays. As her mind processes the information, her shoulders droop and her jaw hangs open in bewilderment. Searching her mind, she sifts through memory and incredulous winces push against the facts weighing upon her. Snapping a defiant glare towards Chelindia, she grits her teeth. The rage fizzles when she stares into Chelindia’s genuine, pleading gaze on her dark tan face. With a hard close of her eyes, tears run down Meredosia’s cheeks and she sniffs between surges of regret. Wiping her face off with her fingers, she frowns sharply and sighs deeply. “I... failed them... I... caused it all... fall apart...”

A spark of hope lights up Chelindia’s gaze, and she cautiously steps forward. “It is okay, Meredosia. It is all in the past. You can focus on the future.”

Meredosia thoughtfully nods, feels around her neck, and curls her fingers around a cord. She lifts up necklace with a faintly glowing crystal bound tied at the end, and smirks with flits of determination. “You’re right. I’m not going to let that happen again.”

Sotalia squints at the crystal. Her golden eyes widen in utter bewilderment and she spits out. “How the fuck?!”

Following Sotalia’s stare, Bach blinks his blue eyes to illumination and focuses upon the necklace.


After Sebastian’s visage distorts, people glance over to the sword at Aristespha’s side. Sheer shock grips Bach and he blurts out when the puzzle collides together. “OH. SHIT.”

Flows of white energy surge out from the small crystal necklace and envelop Meredosia in a bubble barrier. With a twirl of her wrist and flash of white in her glowing crimson eyes, a swarm of small energy bolts boil off the surface of the surrounding elder shield and dart out towards the perimeter. The tiny balls zip across the clearing, fly roughly towards everyone else but Chelindia. They impact trees, rocks, and dirt nearby. Hays and others drop back to cover. Chelindia backs away slowly and pleads with Meredosia. “Please STOP this. You don’t have to do this. We have options!”

In the disruption, Meredosia quickly scans the area and glances up to the top of the sheer, rocky incline. Her attention shifts to Sebastian, Ralli, and Orrento. Narrowing a glare at Sebastian, she aims her finger and waits with a harsh frown. Sebastian shoos the whelps off and yells out. “Send the whelps away! NOW!”

A shrill whistle fills the air from the forest below and the whelps dart away below the canopy. Meredosia lowers her hand and returns her attention to the incline. Hays calls out to Chelindia. “Get back, Chelindia!”

Chelindia reluctantly steps away and darts uneasy glances to Hays as she backs away. With a reassuring nod, Hays mouths out. “We’ll try.”

With a faint smile, Chelindia leaps back into cover and hides away. Hays shifts his focus between everyone nearby and groans. “So, any ideas? I really don’t want to have to hurt someone that is just out of their mind right now.”

Chana shrugs her shoulders, peeks out around a tree trunk, and quirks her brow. “I don’t know. This is some serious power. But it doesn’t feel like there is a lot of it?”

Sneaking a glance through some bushes, Sotalia hums in thought. “It never felt like it had a lot.”

Aristespha blinks her eyes to a violet glow and briefly eyes the barrier around Meredosia. She settles back behind cover and directs her voice to Bach. “I don’t believe she can do too much with that. Bach?”

Bach narrows a glance around a tree trunk, watches the flows of elder energy upon the bubble, and shakes his head. “Yeah. Maybe we can wear it down carefully with a bunch of weak spells?”

Sebastian materializes near Aristespha and ducks down with the teams. “The whelps are clear. Any plans?”

Bach shrugs and surveys the reactions from everyone else. “One team throws weak spells to wear her down, and another gets ready to jump her?”

Hays and Sebastian exchange looks and nod in agreement.

Meredosia strings together evuukian curses under her breath. She closes her eyes, controls her breaths, and tries to calm herself down. As she focuses and manipulates the flows of energy from the crystal, her eyes spring open to the sound of tearing leaves. Spinning around from facing the rock wall, she watches a single energy bolt wandering erratically through the air above. She furrows her brow, cocks her head to side, and mumbles to herself confused. As the prismatic ball closes in, it splits to a swarm of energy specks. The tiny darts zip along fast arcs and pelt Meredosia’s energy shield. The barrage rains chaotic ripples through the defensive barrier.

Meredosia holds her hands out and wills threads of white energy into the protective bubble. As the instabilities settle, a gout of freezing air sprays upon the surface from the perimeter bushes. Meredosia shifts her attention to strengthening the barrier against the draining attack. From around the cover of the tree, a precise beam of energy impacts the barrier at a tangential point away from Meredosia. A guided swarm of bolts jet up through the canopy, orbit above Meredosia, and break away to pelt the surface of her bubble. A white flash of ire fills Meredosia’s glowing crimson eyes, and she surges a wave of energy out from the dimming crystal. With tense grit of her teeth, she shouts in a rage. “STOP TOYING WITH ME!”

Twitching her fingers, tiny balls of power boil off the barrier and fling wildly out into the woods. Turning around, she waits a moment and watches for a counterattack. Silent seconds pass. She pivots around to face the rocky incline, but maintains anticipating eye at the corner of her vision. Another erratic swarm of bolts launch up from the cover of the canopy and rain down upon the barrier. Meredosia maneuvers her hands towards expectation and darts her attention between possible angles. Sotalia leans out from cover and aims her palm of condensing energies at Meredosia. Snapping around, Meredosia draws a surge of elder power from the dim crystal, and flows it down her arm to her hand. A small bright ball flashes across the clearing.

Sotalia yelps reflexively and flops back into the brush. Nearby, Bach calls out. “Sotalia?! You okay?”

Moments of silence follow. Aristespha scurries over to Sotalia, widens her violet glowing eyes, and gasps. “Oh gods. Sotalia? Sotalia?!”

Bach searches through the dense brush for a clear view as he watches Aristespha investigate. With each glimpse of Sotalia’s motionless, obscured body, concern swells within Bach. In the moment, desperation drives his frantic efforts for a comforting sign. Then through layers of brush, Bach pales at a splatter of fresh red upon the fallen leaves.

His expression blanks. His breath stops. His body stills. His distant stare focuses to a point well within his thoughts and delves deeper. From the back of his mind, a resolute and solemn drive grants a cool agreement. Standing up coldly, Bach narrows a grim acceptance upon Meredosia as a white glow floods out the blue in his eyes.


Bach steps out into clearing and glares right into Meredosia’s crimson eyes. Glancing around, Meredosia’s cocks her head incredulously. “LISTEN! Just STAY AWAY and NO ONE ELSE will get hurt!”

Bach maintains a silent, cold stare at Meredosia. As he remains unmoving, Meredosia builds up another attack and yells out. “Turn around and go back into hiding! I mean it!”

She concentrates more power into a larger ball, and holds her palm out towards Bach. She releases it. “I warned you!”

The energy orb jets across the clearing. Bach raises his hand in front of him. With a quick snap, his fingers clamp down onto the elder bolt as flows of power coat his hand. Squeezing harder by the moment, Bach’s grip crushes the ball and the elder miasma bursts out. Meredosia’s jaw drops as the plume condenses back upon Bach, and she gawks in terror at the bright white glow from his glare. “What the-”

Lifting his free hand up, a surge of elder flow collects into Bach’s palm. In seconds, thousands of layered, thin rings of magic form and spin upon chaotic pivots into a tight orb of white noise. Bach flings the ball forward. The cacophony of energy ripping through air catches the full attention of Meredosia as the orb homes in on her. With wide eyed fright, Meredosia flings her arms forward and warps the full strength of her barrier ahead. The elder disintegration ball plows into the protective field. Plumes of white miasma burst out. Slicing rings of energy shred into layers of shielding. Ripples rattle the weakening barrier.

Meredosia struggles in absolute fear to maintain the shrinking divider. She grimaces in fright, strains to keep her trembling hands flowing her diminishing power, and spouts out panicked phrases of evuukian. Faint threads of flow shimmer in a long trail linking to Bach, and he continues to stare coldly at Meredosia. The crystal goes dark.

From behind cover, Sotalia’s voice groggily cries out in a pained whine. “Oh fucking gods! OWW!”

Bach blinks hard, glances around, and snaps his focus to the side. Aristespha holds a ripped section of her shirt upon Sotalia’s head where her horn was, and calms. “Take it easy. You took a hard hit to your barrier. Thankfully, your horn took most of the impact.”

Sotalia flutters her golden eyes and cringes painfully. “My horn?! What happened to it?!”

A wave of relief floods Bach and warmth fills his expression again. Then, horror jars him. he returns his attention to the elder disintegration ball vaporizing the last remnants of Meredosia’s barrier.

The shield disappears completely. Meredosia twists her body away from the destructive orb and turns her face away with an expecting, tearful wince. A bright flash of magic flow jets down the fine threads behind the elder empowered ball. It sharply breaks away from Meredosia, arcs around her, and burrows into the rock wall. A cloud of rock dust and dirt blast out until the chaos dissipates.

Meredosia remains cowering. In the lull, she cautiously touches her ivory face. Hints of relief calm her trembling hand. Her fingers feel shortened strands of her gray hair. Tracing the length of her ear, she finds wet red where the tip was. Her crimson eyes widen in shock, and she drops to her knees. Fighting against fear, she glances to Bach and sobs. “I surrender... Please... I’m sorry...”

Stepping out from the woods cautiously, Hays, Chelindia, Chana, and Heccaeh approach Meredosia. Bach pales and backpedals away shakily. He pivots to face Aristespha and points to Sotalia. Aristespha grants a reassuring nod. “She’ll be fine.”

Sotalia grimaces while keeping pressure on the impromptu bandage. “Only when I find where my horn went! OWW!”

Rushing over, Cideeda sniffs the air and hunts the vicinity with her emerald green eyes. “I’ll find it. Calm down.”

Nodding with a weak smirk, Bach slinks away into the woods. Dretphi arrives behind Cideeda. After looking over Aristespha and Sotalia, she pivots around and frowns concerned. “Where is Bach?”

Between clumps of shrubs, Bach leans against tree trunk, slides down slowly, and flops to a seat upon the forest floor. Combing his hands through his longer, brown hair, he concentrates on slow, shuddering breaths and mumbles. “Oh fuck... Oh fuck... What the hell...”

Hovering down from above, Sebastian’s ethereal form kneels next to Bach and calmly speaks to him. “Hey, bro. You okay?”

Bach gazes into his brother’s face, grimaces, and shakes his head. “Not really, man. Feeling a little fucked up right now. That... That was... Oh shit...”

Sebastian nods simply fighting a frown and settles his visage nearby. “It’s okay. I’m as here as I can be for you.”

A long sigh escapes Bach as he buries his face in his hands. Running his fingers through his longer brown hair, he bows his head between this elbows and blows out a nervous breath. Leaning his back against the tree trunk, he raises his head and blinks his blue eyes in the middle of a distant, thoughtful stare. Shaking his head back to reality, he gazes over to Sebastian’s ghostly form and frowns. “I don’t know, man... Something just snapped and I went after her... That... That was NOT good place in my head... Fuck...”

His focus wavers. He rests his forehead upon the palm of his hand, props his arm up upon knee, and grimaces. “I could have nearly killed her. I mean, I don’t know all she’s done, but I don’t think she deserves getting blasted right here. She was just confused and freaking out with stupid power. I get THAT.”

Sniffing a long gulp of air, he grits his teeth and hisses out the breath. “Did you see how scared of me she was? That look. Gods, that look. Like she’s a scared child and a monster kicked down her bedroom door. That was AT ME.”

Sebastian presents a faint, comforting smile to Bach and nods slowly. “Bro, it’s okay now.”

Bach stares at Sebastian pleadingly. “Is it?”

Wrestling a grimace off his face, Sebastian sighs deeply with traces of reverb in his tone. “Listen, bro. That was a fucked up situation. Like many we’ve been through before. We were trying to make the best of it and go for the best possible outcome despite it.”

Focusing his transparent blue eyes at Bach’s gaze, he frowns and leans close. “The situation changed. You reacted to the change. You thought Sotalia had been seriously hurt. And, you did what you thought had to be done.”

Bach narrows his gaze and disbelief fills his voice. “Did I?”

Sebastian crosses his arms and shrugs his shoulders. “You put a stop to it. The rest of team didn’t get hurt and Meredosia is alive. It’s a good outcome.”

Shaking his head, Bach deliberates out loud and uncomfortably squirms against the tree trunk. “But, was it the best choice? I mean, maybe there was better solution? Maybe if I had waited and actually realized that it wasn’t as terrible as I thought it was? I mean...”

Focusing his full attention to Bach, Sebastian explains calmly. “Bro... There may have not been a better moment coming. She could have flung another bolt and hurt someone else in the time you were waiting for a better option. You took the initiative when no one else could and prevented the situation from getting worse for the rest of us.”

Bach’s confidence wanes as he tries to accept the statement, and he rocks his head while averting his gaze. Sebastian pulls into an echoing breath, sighs deeply, and plainly asks. “Did you want to take the chance for it to get worse, at that moment?”

Watching Bach’s seeking stare into his eyes, Sebastian cracks a reassuring smirk. “I would have done the same in your spot.”

Bach’s face contorts against flits of conflict, and he eventually nods. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. But... I’m not too happy with it, myself. Feels like I lost it for a moment back there and just went power crazy.”

Sebastian’s visage drifts faintly along the forest floor and he shrugs his shoulders. “Well, you didn’t vaporize her in one shot. And, you stopped after you took her power away. I don’t think she’s going to be trying anything knowing you’re around.”

Wave of disgust rises up Bach and he sticks his tongue out. “Bleck. Not exactly what I’m going for.”

He slips his legs underneath and pulls himself up along the trunk of the tree. Straightening his posture, he gathers up his composure and works a reserved expression on his face. “Well, I don’t feel like I’m going to puke anymore. But, damn. I wonder how Captain Hays is going to react to all of this.”

Sebastian ghostly form stands upright and he perks his brow. With a snort, he tilts his head of short brown, transparent hair and chuckles. “Honestly, I don’t think this is the craziest thing he’s ever seen. After all the stuff we saw in the PWZ, he’s seen more.”

Stepping out from hiding in the bushes, Bach surveys the scene. Sotalia cringes painfully as Aristespha presses down the base half of her horn back onto her head in a bubble of magical flow. Cideeda steps up with both hands cupped together. She twists her mouth sympathetically and dumps horn fragments into Sotalia’s awaiting hands. “I think this is all of them.”

Dretphi watches Sotalia sort through the pieces and pats her on the shoulder. She spots Bach with Sebastian and waves with a hint of concern on her face. Bach waves back and presents a weak smile. He glances over to Heccaeh calling whelps back, Chana carefully putting the crystal necklace into a containment vessel, and Chelindia talking to the very subdued, handcuffed Meredosia. Captain Hays steps into view, walks up to Bach, and tips his hat. “Hey. Wondered where you headed off to.”

Bach nervously chuckles. “Uh, yeah. Just needed a moment. Is there anything you need me to do?”

Hays cocks his head to the side and strokes his long black beard. “Like what?”

Glancing around, Bach narrows his confusion. “I don’t know. Bringing me in for questioning, or some other thing because of...”

Crossing his arms, Hays drums his fingers on the chassis of his cybernetic arm and smirks with snort. “For what? Defending us?”

Bach blinks blankly while intrigue curls the corner of Sebastian’s mouth. Hays shakes his head and leans close to Bach and Sebastian. “I ain’t police. I ain’t military. I’m a Ranger. I’ve had my suspicions well before this point that someone was throwing some serious firepower in this group.”

A sly grin cracks and he chuckles. “Don’t worry, I let Hackle continue to think it’s the sword. I think I owe that much for the people of Hattan and everyone at the convention center.”

He holds out his hand and awaits Bach’s response. “Might have to call on you if another Nightmare wanders out from the zones, if you don’t mind.”

Bach ponders a moment and shakes Hays’s hand. “I just hope the next one won’t be for a while.”

With a snort, Hays rolls his light blue eyes. “Me too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to talk to this Meredosia.”

Hays departs. Sebastian glances over to Bach and nods. “See. It’s going to be okay.”

Blowing out his nerves, Bach wrestles his anxiety. “I guess.”

Bach spots Chelindia standing off to the side. He briefly grits his teeth and walks up to Chelindia cautiously. “Hey... I just wanted to apologize for accidentally hurting Meredosia. I should have been more careful and-”

Chelindia holds up her hand, presents an appreciative smirk on her dark tan face, and shakes her head of dark green, braided hair. “You have no need to apologize. She escalated the situation, willingly. This isn’t the first time her decisions have brought misfortune upon her.”

She draws in a long breath and releases sad sigh. “It was a bad situation. My bow was already drawn, and I expected the worst. It didn’t come to be. She’s still here and quite humbled.”

A genuine smile appears on Chelindia’s face and she bows slightly to Bach. “I think she might consider other options now. It may have been a harsh experience, but it may have been the only option to get here.”

Captain Hays calls out to the members of his team to a meet up. Chelindia nods quickly to Bach. “Thank you again. I’ll talk to you all later.”

When Chelindia departs, Bach walks back to his team, mulling over the situation unsatisfied. He spots Sotalia sitting in the clearing, rearranging her horn fragments in her hands, and struggling to reassemble the puzzle. Bach steps over and sits down next to Sotalia. “Hey. How’s your head?”

Sotalia rolls her golden eyes embarrassed. She feels the bandages around her head and the base of her horn, and winces. “Oh, it fucking hurts. Aristespha got the base reattached enough for now. It’s going to take her the rest of the night to get it all the way.”

She curses under her breath in emin, and fights to fit together irregular chunks of horn back together. “Gods damn it. Bad enough that bolt knocked by horn off. But did the impact have to fracture the upper half? None of these pieces seem to fit together.”

Bach holds his hand out and smirks. “Want me to try?”

Sotalia glances to Bach, blinks her golden eyes, and smiles as she deposits the horn bits in his hand. With a faint glow of blue in his eyes, Bach wills flows of energy, and the pieces levitate up. While Bach concentrates on the puzzle, Sotalia cranes her head and watches his expression through her fiery orange, wavy hair. “So... Everything okay?”

An uncertain cringe drives a slow frown on Bach’s face. “Well... I don’t really know.”

In the lull of conversation, Sotalia gazes with concern, places her hand on Bach back, and rubs soothingly. Two sit quietly, and Sotalia watches Bach magically assemble the irregular pieces of the horn. Minutes later, the final flecks find their place in the greater whole. Sotalia grins with delight and grips Bach’s shoulder. “Oh, it’s looks so good! Thank you!”

Bach quirks his brow and hums. “I think it’s still missing a few pieces. But, I’ve bonded what’s there together.”

Sotalia sighs with acceptance and snorts. “Oh, it’s nothing a little filler and varnish won’t fix.”

She bites her lower lip and flutters her eyes at Bach. “Do you think you can put it back on for me? Please?”

Bach chuckles softly and nods. “Sure.”

Sotalia tilts her head towards Bach and motions towards the broken end of her reattached horn. “Just be careful... It’s really sore right now. I can feel everything.”

Carefully shifting his hands together, Bach guides the levitating horn end and moves it close to Sotalia’s head. Sotalia glances around, whispers with an impatient hint, and twists her mouth. “So... What do you think my odds are at getting my crystal back from the Rangers?”

Bach furrows his brow and aims his glowing blue eyed stare down at Sotalia. “Seeing how they put it in some kind of containment unit and might be cataloging it... Um... Well... I wouldn’t put too much money on that bet.”

Sotalia huffs, pouts, and grumbles her frustration. “Shit. Just when I finally found it...”

She furrows her brow. “Wait. This means that Meredosia stole it from me!”

With a simple nod, Bach concurs and blinks in thought while aligning the horn piece. “Yeah... How fuck did she manage that? Oh well, it’s a moot point now. Probably for the best we don’t say much.”

Rolling her golden eyes, Sotalia stiffly frowns. “I guess...”

She sorts through her thoughts, narrows her attention to a point, and cracks plotting grin. “But... That means it’s stolen property. So, I have a legal precedence for it to be returned to its rightful owner, me, and-”

Bach projects a playfully unamused tone. “I WILL put this on backwards.”

Sotalia’s golden eyes widen briefly. She hides a guilty grin with a hint of color in her cheeks and lets the subject go.