Episode 117

Emerald eyes concentrate upon a hazy green orb of magical energy hovering above Cideeda’s palms. She minutely contorts her light brown face and narrows her focused stare. After a few twitches from the strain, she cracks a toothy grin. “This is about the best I can do right now.”

A smile grows on Bach, and his faintly glowing blue eyes watch the flows swirl between Cideeda’s clawed fingers. “That’s pretty good. You’ve got the basics down. After that, honestly, it’s just a lot of practice to get a feel for the finer control. I’ll have to show you a basic training bolt spell soon.”

A happy smirk appears on Cideeda’s face with a hint of warmth. Her furry ears perk and a delighted breath slips out. “That’s going to be so cool.”

A gentle breeze blows through the clearing between the surrounding forest and in front of the hillside entry. The tops of tall grasses sway with the wind and push cooling, late afternoon air through the vicinity. Bach glances around, avoids staring at the facility entry, and sighs long. Cideeda’s furry ear flicks to Bach, and a tinge of concern weighs on her expression. Aristespha walks over to Bach and Cideeda seated in the middle of the clearing, and sits down next to Bach. She presents a small vial to Bach and studies him with her violet eyes. “Drink this. It’ll help a little.”

Bach plucks the glass container from Aristespha, narrows an inquisitive gaze at it, and twists his mouth. “Feel a little bad for taking something...”

Aristespha perks her brow, meets Bach’s eyes, and dons a reassuring tone. “Don’t. There’s no shame in using the right resources appropriately for recovery. And...”

She parts a comforting smile and rolls her violet eyes. “It’s an anti-histamine primarily, but has beneficial effects for anxiety.”

Slowly nodding, Bach glances around at the tall grasses with abundant crops of different flowering weeds intermingling and eyes the vial. He drinks the contents, grimaces slightly, and chuckles lightly. “Oddly appropriate right now, too.”

Aristespha pats his shoulder, slides the sword out of the scabbard at her side, and quietly places it on the ground next to her. She stands up, searches around the forest perimeter, and groans. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to find what could pass for restroom out here.”

While Bach nods in his own thoughts, she angles for Cideeda’s attention. She gestures for Cideeda to join along, and points down at the sword. Cideeda glances over, acknowledges the plan, and releases the hazy green orb of flow in her hands into a magical mist. She gets her legs underneath herself and stands into a stretch under the late afternoon sun. “I’ll join you. I need to air out this suit anyway.”

She squirms briefly, picks at the fabric around her waist line, and grumbles. “My tail needs to breathe anyway.”

Pausing a moment, she gazes down with a comforting tone. “We’ll be right back, okay?”

Bach glances up with a smile and nods. “Cool. I’ll be here.”

Aristespha and Cideeda depart and navigate towards the edge of the clearing. Bits of debate about the directions to check fade into the thick trees. Bach draws in a long breath, spots the sword next to him, and sighs deeply. He fights against a harsh frown, exhales reluctantly, and grimaces. Moments later, Sebastian’s ethereal form materializes in a seat next to Bach. The brothers sit quietly, stare out the same direction into the woods, and exist in awkwardness. Tension fluctuates between hints of conversation trying to form, and they fail to break the silence looming between. At the peak of the surging unease, Sebastian forces out the words with tinges of regret. “Bro... I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have reacted-”

Bach blinks to attention and angles his head towards Sebastian. “No. Don’t apologize for that. I totally get it. I’m starting to act like a gods damned Dark Lord now and-”

Snapping his full attention to Bach, Sebastian focuses a dire stare right at Bach. “Don’t you fucking go down that line of thought! You are NOT acting like one in the slightest! How I reacted is my problem. NOT yours. It’s not fair to you.”

Uncertainly seeps out onto Bach’s face and he shies away from his brother’s gaze. Sebastian softens his tone and cranes his head to meet Bach’s eyes. “Bro, what you did was only similar to what got me. It WAS NOT the same. I was caught off guard with everything and just got scared by everything happening all at once. But...”

He leans close to Bach and states. “I was not scared of you, but just what happened. You’re my brother. I love you, and nothing is going to change that.”

Bach draws in a deep breath, eases out a long sigh, and dons a small smirk on his face. “I love you, too.”

A comforting smile appears on Sebastian’s ghostly visage. “And, don’t let what happened today fuck everything else you’ve done. It was an absolutely shitty situation... You came through for us.”

Dragging his hand past the white streak and through his long brown hair, Bach groans in disgust at himself and shakes his head. “I-I know... But... I still actually KILLED a man. It wasn’t some accident...”

He turns his head fully towards Sebastian, blinks his watering eyes hard, and frowns sharply. “I thought about it... I reasoned it out... It was calculated in my own head. I... I saw it as the only way.”

A surge of guilt drowns out his voice, and he shudders briefly. Gritting his teeth, Bach gulps down a breath and pressures his words out. “There... There had to be another way... There had to have been another option... This couldn’t have been the best option.”

Sebastian frowns, draws in an ethereal breath, and explains carefully. “You’re right. It wasn’t the best option.”

Bach blinks and seeks a further answer. Wrestling the thoughts in his head, Sebastian sighs with a ghostly reverb and stares right into Bach’s eyes. “The best option stopped being a thing for that whole fucking mess well before that choice was dumped on you. The only thing you could have done was make the correct choice for what you wanted most to happen.”

Wincing at recent memory, Bach sniffs and hangs his head down. “Still... I could have done something else. Maybe changed my aim... Changed the amount of power... I...”

Sebastian waits for Bach to glance over and his tone cools. “You know all that would have added risks you didn’t want to take.”

He concentrates his stare at Bach and speaks resolutely. “Bach... I’ve NEVER felt that way in that moment. It was as if he was ripping whatever is keeping me here from me, piece by piece. Whatever was keeping me... alive, I guess... It was failing. And, he had no intention to stop.”

Bach blinks in shock and ponders quietly. Sebastian sighs deeply, bows his head for a moment, and settles his translucent blue eyed gaze at Bach. “Bro... I argued with that guy forever. And... I don’t think he was going to be convinced to do anything else than what he did. I don’t think anyone could have convinced him otherwise, especially in the time we had. Definitely not when you only had seconds to save me.”

Rocking his head side to side, Bach pulls a harsh breath through his nose and clenched teeth, and blows out a somber exhale. Sebastian glances around at the surrounding forest bordering the clearing. “And... There’s no way in hell we could have let him go. He would have just ended up doing something worse to someone else. This whole situation went from bad to worse... to almost the worst.”

He catches Bach glancing over and struggles against a heavy frown. “It’s fucking awful that the decision got dumped on you. But... Bro, I think you were the only one who could have made a decision that mattered right then and there. I know you didn’t make it lightly. I know you don’t feel right about taking a life of someone who... maybe really deserved another chance. But, everyone else is still HERE. And, we’re here for you.”

Bach searches his mind, eventually grants a slight nod, and struggles to push a frown off his face. “Yeah... I mean, I can reason it. I just... Just don’t know how to feel about this. As fucked up as this sounds... I feel like there was an opportunity that was lost. I took someone’s chance away.”

Sebastian internally debates himself with a side to side rocking his head and straightens his seated posture. “Yeah, bro. In a way, you did. But, at that moment, I don’t think the costs of giving him his chance would have been something you could have lived with.”

He cracks a smirk and chuckles softly. “Then again, I might be a little biased on that.”

Bach glances over to Sebastian with a faint smile. He bows his head with a depressed sad groan and frowns. Sebastian gazes at his brother and explains. “It’s sad and awful this all happened. But... You’re not solely responsible for all of this. Don’t put it all on yourself. I’m responsible for it, too. Lexattican was responsible for the situation, too. Don’t beat yourself up for what everyone else did before the choice you made. It’s NOT fair to you.”

Within the long silence, Bach ponders to himself, sparingly sniffs, and resists blinking hard upon welling tears. Sebastian sadly gazes upon his brother and reaches out to grip his shoulder. As his ethereal hand sinks through, he quietly draws back his arm and sadly frowns. He blinks in surprise as Bach’s hand rests upon the shoulder of his visage. Glancing down, Sebastian meets Bach’s faintly glowing blue eyes and notices the traces of flow to his brother’s hand. With a loving smile, Bach chuckles weakly. “Thanks, brother.”

With a reverberating sniff, Sebastian laughs and nods. “No problem, bro. I’m here for you, as much as I can be.”

In the lull of conversation, the brothers relax quietly and gaze out into the surrounding forest from their seats in the grassy clearing.

Aristespha and Cideeda step past the surrounding brush of the forest and into the clearing. While Aristespha glances up towards the late afternoon sun, Cideeda flexes in her loosened body suit and combs out the fur of her tail. The two approach Bach and Sebastian sitting and idly chatting. Sebastian catches Aristespha’s glance and smiles lovingly at her. The bits of tension on Aristespha’s face fade, and she relaxes her posture. Bach turns his head, notices both Aristespha and Cideeda, and cracks a smirk. “Find some place that worked?”

Aristespha smirks and rolls her violet eyes with a toss of her long silvery blue hair. “Functional enough. Though, I wouldn’t give it my highest rating... But, certainly not my lowest... Unfortunately.”

A gentle breeze blows through. Cideeda holds her arms out, and pivots herself to allow her loosened attire to scoop the air through. She wags her long tail of medium length fur through the wind and exhales in relief. “Oh gods, that’s SO nice.”

Bach quirks his brow and chuckles. “You’d think they design it to be a bit more breathable.”

Cideeda shrugs her shoulders and rolls her emerald green eyes with a flick her furry ears. “It is. But, there’s nothing like real airflow. And, I don’t want my tail to soak up too much sweat.”

As she settles down to a seat next to Bach, she smiles warmly and inquires. “How are you feeling?”

Bach notices the attention from Aristespha and Sebastian, and draws in full breath. “I’ll get there eventually... Just need some time to figure it out. Well, at least as figured out as it’s going to get.”

Cideeda’s furry ear flicks over and listens to the trailing hints of pain his Bach tone. A slight frown curls at the corner of her mouth. Unconsciously, her tail slowly wraps around behind Bach and Cideeda presents a comforting smile. “If it’s any comfort, I think I would have done what you did in that situation. It’s going to not feel right. But, for the options you had, it was the correct one for us.”

Bach meets Cideeda’s emerald eyed gaze and gradually bows his head with some hints of acceptance. Aristespha squats down, gathers her thoughts, and sighs. “I’ve had to contend with similarly minded people like Lexattican before. It is never easy. The older and more dedicated they are, the harder it becomes to try to change their minds.”

She frowns briefly, brushes back stray silvery blue hairs, and shakes her head with a distant sad stare. “And that all only works... If, they even want to be convinced.”

Bach nods in unsatisfied agreement and contends with flits of emotions on his face. He straightens his posture, breathes sadly, and shakes his head. “Yeah. I can reason it all I want. But, it still doesn’t feel good.”

Bach notices the soft pressure of five claw tips on his forearm and glances over to Cideeda’s comforting gaze. With a reassuring smile, Cideeda shrugs shoulders and droops her furry ears slightly within her short multi-colored hair. “It’d be really worrying if you didn’t feel bad about it. Just remember, there’s a difference between giving someone a chance and surrendering your own.”

After a few moments, Bach nods, smiles at Cideeda, and laughs faintly. “Yeah. By the way... I’m curious if there’s a relevant Fvalian fable for all this.”

Cideeda’s ears perk up, and her emerald green eyes search around her head. While she bites her lower lip in thought, Aristespha settles to seat next to Sebastian’s visage and retrieves the sword from the ground. Sebastian snorts and glances with a humored smirk at Aristespha. “Well, I hope there is one. Because, I’m a little afraid what Evuukian tale might be appropriate.”

Aristespha narrows her violet eyes at Sebastian, quirks her brow, and crosses her ivory arms. “And what would be wrong with an Evuukian tale, Sebastian?”

Sebastian twists his face into a grimace and awkwardly approaches the subject. “Well, um, dear... They’re always so... bloody and vindictive. That’s just the historical stories you’ve told me. The legends and fables are... Wow.”

Aristespha’s stare wanes as she thinks, and she capitulates the point with a bit of embarrassment. “Yes... You are not wrong. But, you have to blame my ancestors for not thinking the peaceful times were worth writing about.”

Cideeda contemplates with a side to side rock of her head and combs her free hand through her short hair. “I think I got one... that’s tangentially related?”

As attention shifts to her, Cideeda relays the tale from memory. “There was a kind king that ruled over a land that often got flooded. With most floods, they always had warning and could prepare. This flood was different. Torrential rains fell upon lands that were upstream of the river kingdom was near. So, this flash flood came with little warning. But, they had big walls with gates they could use to seal off the rising waters.”

She perks her ears and colors the tone of her voice. “The advisors, after getting word from the lookouts, ran to the king and pleaded. My king, my king! You need to close the outer gates! The water is rising so fast, we can’t wait.”

Changing her cadence, she puffs up her posture. “We can’t close the gates! There may be people still trying to escape the waters. I must give them every opportunity to evacuate.”

Cideeda settles back to her normal voice and glances between Aristespha, Bach, and Sebastian. “So, the outer gates remained open. People escaped, but water flowed too hard and fast. The gates were stuck open. Later, the lookouts warned the advisors that waters had reached the inner gate. They pleaded to king, and he said the same thing. Keep the gates open. I can’t be responsible for condemning the people who haven’t escaped.”

She shrugs her shoulders and sighs. “Again, the waters overwhelmed the inner gate, and it could not close. Soon, the waters were at the protective gates at the base of the hill the castle was upon. Again the advisors pleaded, but the king said no.”

A smile forms on Cideeda’s light brown face and she relays the tale. “Because of the king’s actions, every citizen was able to escape the flood waters and get to the tall castle hill to safety.”

Her bright expression wanes and she explains. “But... The farms protected by the outer wall were washed away. The homes protected by the inner were gone. And, the castle walls crumbled from the water soaking their foundations from the interior.”

She finishes up, and darts her emerald green eyes between everyone else. “So?”

Bach blinks a few moments, pulls a smirk, and slowly nods. “I get it. Yeah... That actually made sense. And, that was definitely a Fvalian fable there.”

A warm smile peeks out on Cideeda’s face, she gently nudges a shoulder against Bach’s, and the end of her tail behind him flicks. “Well, I hope it helps you figure things out.”

Aristespha and Sebastian exchange glances of hopeful relief. The four idle in the tranquil surroundings for minutes. Bach blinks back from a thought, sits up right, and inquires. “Hey, um, can I ask I favor from everyone?”

Sebastian meets the intrigued looks of Aristespha and Cideeda, and gazes at Bach. “Yeah. Sure, bro. What’s up?”

Bach wrestles a stern frown on his face while his blue eyes stare internally. “That machine next to the isolation chamber... The one that seems like it produces that nightmare energy?”

He feels a tightening grip of Cideeda’s hand on his forearm and faint trembles. Sebastian nods and asks. “Yes? What about it?”

Resting a comforting hand on Cideeda’s grip, Bach draws in a long breath and grimaces resolutely. “Before the GAA gets here, could we make sure it’s completely destroyed?”

After seconds of quiet deliberation, Sebastian smiles with a confirming nod. “I got no objections to it. Aristespha? Cideeda?”

Cideeda immediately replies. “No need to ask. I can make sure none of the tech is recoverable.”

Aristespha tempers a frown and curls a smirk after a few moments. “After all this nonsense with the past haunting us, I think it’s best that such is properly forgotten.”

A sly smile forms on her face. “And, it was an intense battle. It is not surprising some ancient machinery was significantly damaged in the crossfire.

Sebastian bounces a gaze between Aristespha and Cideeda. “Could one of you radio the other-”

A radio key up chirps out from Cideeda’s aetherphone and she announces. “Hey, Dretphi, Sotalia. Bach wants to destroy that nightmare machine in the chamber. Any objections?”

Seconds later, Dretphi’s voice crackles over radios. “No. When? It is cleared inside. Ready to finish up.”

Sotalia’s voice follows up. “So, do we want to blow it up? Melt it? Shatter it into pieces? I take requests.”

A sigh of relief leaves Bach, and he smiles gratefully to everyone. “Thank you. I don’t know. It just feels like something I should do to settle things here. You know?”

He prepares to get up, stands up with Aristespha, Cideeda, and Sebastian following suit, and stretches. He slowly pivots, faces the entry archway in the hill side, and tenses up. Sebastian drifts in front to lead the way. Aristespha and Cideeda keep to the sides of Bach. With a calming breath, Bach moves with the group and they go inside the old facility.

Early morning light radiates through the sliding glass door and into the living area of the ranch style house. Stepping through the archway from the hallway, Dretphi brushes the remaining sleep from her eyes and arches her back into stretch. With a brief grimace, she rubs a spot on her lower back through her shirt and grumbles to herself in grath. She slowly steps upon the floor, fights against a long yawn, and shudders awake. Walking to the kitchen bar, she opens the refrigerator door and surveys the contents. Her steely gray eyes dart between different items, and a muted, contemplative groan slips out. Her analytical glances bounce between a number of ingredients, and she draws a short, satisfied smirk on her tan face.

After picking up a few of her choices, she pivots, clears the counter top nearby, and readies the area for food prep. Tossing back her platinum blonde braids, she visibly ponders the meal plan and nods when she reaches a conclusion. Minute pass, and she deftly sets up the ingredients. Reaching a stopping point, she walks into the kitchen towards the stove top and picks out cookware.

From the hallway, Bach groggily wanders into the living area. He drags himself into the middle of room, glances around, and settles a distant stare out the sliding glass door. As his mind drifts inwards, Dretphi steps out to the refrigerator. She opens the door, find more breakfast ingredients, and sweeps them up. Turning around, she notices Bach and pauses. Cocking her head to the side, she narrows a curious stare at him and watches attentively. Seconds pass. She keeps a quiet tone and directs a whisper. “Bach?”

Bach continues staring distantly out into the early morning light. Dretphi raises her voice slightly. “Bach?”

Swaying faintly, Bach stands in the middle of the living area unaware and watches the back yard. Tinges of concern trickle into Dretphi’s expression and she speaks with a normal volume. “Bach?”

Bach startles, blinks back to awareness, and darts his bewilderment around the room. He pivots around, spots Dretphi, and smiles weakly. “Oh... Hey. Um, morning.”

Dretphi lifts an intrigued brow and focuses her attention on Bach. “You are not normally awake this early on Sunday.”

She presents a warm smile and gently inquires. “Any reason?”

Sorting through his hazy thoughts, Bach awkwardly chuckles and sluggishly shrugs his shoulders. “Um, uh... I don’t know. Just couldn’t get any real sleep last night. Just couldn’t fall asleep all the way...”

Recognition appears on Dretphi’s face, and she sets down her breakfast prep. With her full concern upon Bach, she softly inquires and watches. “Any reason why?”

Bach pauses, wrestles an uneasy grimace, and squirms uncomfortably. “Ah, well, you know... Just... Um... Just didn’t feel like I could sleep. Like, my mind couldn’t stop thinking... about... you know.”

He halfheartedly laughs, scratches the back of his head, and presents a smile to Dretphi with a wavering tone. “I don’t know. I’ve done all the reasoning I can and I just... Well, I know it was correct. But, I can’t feel right about it.”

Drawing a long breath, he exhales with a shudder and gazes uncertainly over to Dretphi, rubbing the sides of his arms. “I don’t know. Uh, does that make any sense to you?”

Walking up to Bach, Dretphi dons a faint frown, nods, and softly speaks. “Yes.”

After sniff and hard blink of his blue eyes, Bach sighs sadly with a hint of relief. He tries to voice his words and halts when emotion squelches him. He stiffens his upper lip to hold back. Dretphi wraps her arms around Bach and hugs him close. In the quiet moment, Bach fights against sobs and settles down to a whisper. “Sorry...”

Dretphi whispers gently. “No need.”

Moment pass on by, and Dretphi draws in a long breath and calmly speaks. “You did what had to be done to protect us. Would have done the same. That does not mean it will feel good. Eventually... Time will fade it to a sad, painful memory.”

She waits a moment and collects her thoughts. “Focus on acceptance. Understand. Forgive yourself.”

Bach stares into his own mind with his head upon Dretphi’s shoulders within her embrace. Hints of sadness slip out through his breaths. Dretphi tightens her her hug briefly and whispers, heavy with old pain. “My first was hard... too.”

Blinking back to full awareness, Bach opens his eyes wide and awakens from his stupor. His blue eyes slide over towards Dretphi’s head. In the moments, a new understanding dawns upon him. He wraps his arms around Dretphi, hugs her tightly, and leans his head against hers. Dretphi stifles a few sniffles and eases out a sad breath. The two share the moments and exist in the quiet morning light from the sliding glass door.

Eventually, Bach and Dretphi part from the embrace. Each wipes the remaining hints of tears from their eyes and share smiles. Catching the concern still upon Dretphi’s face, Bach chuckles softly. “I’ll be okay. Just need some time. Still got to process all this.”

Dretphi nods understandingly, and rests a hand on Bach’s shoulder. “I am here.”

After a long sigh of relief, Bach glances over to the couch and motions towards the television. “I’m going to see what shows are on right now.”

He meets Dretphi’s steely gray gaze and smirks. “If I happen to fall asleep, could you wake me up when you get breakfast ready, please? I don’t want to miss out on your cooking when it’s fresh.”

Dretphi grins with pride and warmth. “Of course.”

As Bach plods over to the couch, Dretphi returns to her food prep and watches over.

A television screen upon the wall mount flicks between different channels and the audio barely rises above the background noise of the hospital room. Veevi taps a finger upon the remote, deflates with a groan, and grimaces at the programming. After a few more attempts to find something entertaining, she drops the remote off upon the top of her bed spread and sighs. Combing back her long pink hair, she mulls over idle thoughts and glances around the room. From her seat upon the bed, she lays down upon the plain hospital sheets, rests her head upon the pillows, and stares up at the ceiling. She places her tan, brown striped arms upon her belly and plays with her loose fitting, worn shirt. Her attention wanders around the room, and she glances at the dark screen of her aetherphone. Furrowing her brow, her pink pupil eyes focus upon the device. After a few seconds, she grits her sharp teeth and turns her head away with a shake. A long sigh escapes her lips, and her short haired, long tail wags slowly.

A knock sounds out from the entry door, and an evuukian nurse peeks in. “Veevi?”

Veevi’s fuzzy ears perk up and she lifts her head up from the pillows. “Um, yes?”

With a pleasant smile, the nurse steps in fully and motions behind her. “There is a visitor for you. I wanted to make sure you were feeling okay with a guest before we allowed him here.”

Puzzling through her confusion, Veevi gradually nods and sits up all the way on the top of the bed. She crosses her legs, glances around the room, and politely speaks. “Huh. Um, yes. I think I could. I’m not expecting anyone... Who is it? Most the people I know who would visit me... I blocked.”

The nurse smirks with an understanding nod. “His name is Chad Bosch. Do you want me to-”

Veevi’s eyes light up, her fuzzy ears perk, and she holds back an eager surge. “Oh! Uh! Um... Yes. Yes, of course. Please let him through.”

The nurse acknowledges the request, turns around, and peeks back before closing the door. “I’ll let him know.”

When the nurse slips out, Veevi exhales quickly and straightens her posture. Glancing around the room, she inspects herself and grimaces with disappointment. She tries to straighten up her faded, worn shirt, brushes off her baggy shorts, and combs back the numerous stray strands of pink hair on her head. After vain efforts, she pauses, frowns briefly, and groans in defeat. A knock sounds out from the door. Veevi startles briefly and watches the entry. Carefully opening the door, Chad peeks inside, spots Veevi on the bed, and presents a kind smile. “Hey. I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

Veevi glances up to the television, quickly taps the power button on the remote, and returns her attention to Chad. “No. Not really.”

A genuine smile grows on her tan face and she awkwardly points to a chair near the bed. “Um, they really don’t have much set up for visiting. But, you can use that chair.”

Chad nods, calmly walks over, and glances around the room. “Yeah. Not too terrible of a room. I’ve seen more spartan ones than this.”

He takes his free hand, grabs the back of the chair, and slides it over close to the bed. “Sorry for not letting you know before hand. I haven’t been able to reach you and wanted to check in on you.”

Veevi lowers her head slightly, weathers a bit of embarrassment on her face, and eyes her inert aetherphone on the counter. “Yeah. After some... Drama... I decided to just keep my phone off.”

Chad’s gaze meets Veevi’s, and he cracks a sympathetic smirk with a roll of his brown eyes. “That’s actually a really good plan. It’s been a little wild with the production staff lately.”

Quirking her brow, Veevi tilts her head to the side and the end of her tail flicks up. “Really?”

With an amused chuckle, Chad briefly grits his teeth and hisses. “Yeah. I’ll spare you all the details, unless you want to hear them. But, they’ve been too busy trying to keep the staff from revolting to pay much attention to the rest of us.”

An intrigued glint sparkles in Veevi’s eyes, and she pulls a small, sharp grin from the corner of her mouth. “Really? I shouldn’t really indulge too much. I’m trying to keep my mind off those things...”

She tightens down to a smirk and squirms eagerly. “Maybe a few tidbits?”

Chad lifts up an eyebrow and chuckles with an ill humored tinge. “Gerald put in his notice. Samantha has been in employment contract negotiation hell. And, Howard has been quiet after a network meeting.”

Veevi blinks, cocks her head to the side, and visibly puzzles. “Wow... I might have ask you for a little more, later.”

She pauses a moment, settles her gaze upon Chad, and furrows her brow. “By the way, um... Like, I’m really, REALLY happy you are here and all. I’m just a little confused as to... Well... Why?”

A wave of guilt and regret diverts Veevi’s attention from Chad, and she crosses her arms loosely. “I mean, I haven’t been all that nice and good to you. I’ve been really awful, actually.”

Chad nods understandingly and chuckles with a smile. “I know. But, I figured I’d see how you were doing myself. And, if I was in a similar situation, I would like to someone to visit me today.”

Veevi puzzles at Chad, and her pink pupil eyes search her mind. “Today? What’s special about... today...”

Noticing the confusion on Veevi, Chad pulls out a small cardboard box from behind him, opens the lid, and reveals a large cupcake. “Happy birthday, Veevi.”

The revelation dawns upon Veevi and she blinks in a stupor. After counting to herself and reviewing her memory, she turns towards Chad. Looking upon the pink frosting and rainbow sprinkles, her gaze softens and she closes her tearful eyes. Sniffing loudly, she softly giggles between wiping her cheeks dry with her arm. “Oh gods, I totally forgot. I guess, I just have been trying to keep my mind off everything... Wow... I, um...”

She gazes into Chad’s brown eyes, smiles genuinely, and sighs gratefully. “Thank you.”

Chad nods and gives the box with cupcake to Veevi. “I’m glad you like it. I figured this was something I could sneak in if I needed to and wouldn’t attract too much attention.”

Veevi admires the treat in the container and thinks a moment. She glances up toward Chad, wrestles an uneasy twist of her mouth, and shyly asks. “Could I give you a hug?”

Chad cocks his head to side, ponders a moment, and chuckles. “Sure.”

Setting the box with the cupcake carefully to the side, Veevi slides to the edge of the bed, places her feet on the ground, and leans out. She wrap her arms around Chad, draws him close in a hug, and rests her head on his shoulder. Seconds of peaceful quiet later, Veevi frowns with regret, winces her acceptance, and gently whispers. “I hope you find someone really nice.”

Opening his brown eyes in surprise, Chad smiles and softly replies. “I hope the same for you, too.”

Parting from the embrace, Veevi settles on the hospital bed, and Chad scoots back into his chair. Picking up the box with the large cupcake, Veevi glances to Chad and carefully splits the treat in half. “So... Give me all the juicy details. I think I could stand a little gossip.”

The door to the hot tub gazebo behind the ranch style house opens up, and Sotalia steps out in the afternoon light. Drying her fiery orange, wavy hair with a towel, she sways her weight between her feet and hums a tune. Faint wisps of steam drift off her light tan and dark gray patterned skin, and she stretches her figure out in the sun. A cool gust of wind blows along the length of the house, across the tops of the short grass, and over damp bikini attire. With a reflexive cringe, she tenses uncomfortably, squirms to a brief shiver, and mutters a few choice curses. She blinks her golden eyes out of the chilly surprise and quickly pats the remaining water off her body with the towel. After the final few wipes, she stands up straight and admires the scenery. Her gaze wanders to the breezes rippling along the back yard grass, the sun nearing the horizon, and the forest of fading green. Loose leaves of brown, orange, red, and yellow ride the wind out of the woods and skip across the lawn. Drawing in a long breath, Sotalia grumbles unhappily, glances at the hot tub gazebo, and tenses against the cooling breeze.

While stepping forward, she wraps the towel around her waist and navigates a path of flat stones to the back patio. As she gets closer, she notices Bach sitting in a patio chair staring into the distance. A sly smirk graces her lips, and she slows her approach. Keeping an eye on Bach, she plots a path in front of his view and adopts a hip swaying strut. Striding confidently out past his sight line, Sotalia glances back with a toss her hair and combs stray strands over her swept back horns. After a few moments, she cocks her head curiously. Bach’s distant stare remains ahead, and his blue eyes sort through internal turmoil. Concern weighs a heavy frown on Sotalia’s face, and she deliberates quietly. Flexing her long black nailed fingers, her golden eyes dart indecisively and she grimaces. Moments pass and a spark of determination emboldens her demeanor. She steps in front of the seated Bach, leans forward with her hands on her thighs, and sternly speaks above his eye level. “You should really STOP looking for reasons to tear yourself apart.”

Bach startles back the awareness, blinks around blankly, and refocuses attention to ahead. Seconds later, his blue eyes widen with recognition, a flush of color floods his cheeks, and he bashfully averts his gaze away. “OH! Hey! I didn’t notice you there. Um, how long have you been here?”

Sotalia smirks briefly, sighs to a weak frown, and softens her tone. “What are you thinking about?”

Remaining in silence against the background chorus of autumn leaves flying free, Bach somberly glances away and stiffens his upper lip against a frown. Sorting through his thoughts, he shrugs his shoulders and dismissively chuckles. “Oh, you know... Things and stuff... Nothing grand...”

An annoyed groan slips out from Sotalia, and she furrows her brow unamused. Her narrowing stare catches a glance from Bach, and she concentrates a demanding gaze upon him. After uneasy tension, Bach sighs deeply and bows his head down with a somber voice. “I don’t know. I just can’t get it out of my head. With the power, I’ve almost killed Meredosia... And... Well... I killed... Lexattican.”

A hard frown overtakes Bach’s face, and he slouches in the patio chair as he deflates. “What does that make me? I know, I know, I know... We’ve been over this, but... With everything that’s happened recently, I can’t shake that question...”

Warmth softens Sotalia’s look upon Bach. She reaches hand out under his bearded chin, directs his face towards hers, and stares into his eyes. “Not a Dark Lord. Not like Noxian.”

She smiles gently and giggles. “Like it or not, you are still you, Bach. The very same man that has saved us many times. The same man that faced down terrible things no one should at our sides, and often in front of us. A man always there when it matters the most.”

Bach blinks dumbstruck. He starts to open his mouth, and Sotalia gently lifts up his chin. She flutters her golden eyes, sniffs back traces of tears, and whispers. “And... You still are my hero.”

The two share seconds of quiet and watering eyes. Sotalia releases Bach’s chin, pats the side of his face, and stands back up straight. While Bach wipes the starts of tears from his eyes, Sotalia recomposes herself and recovers her confident stance. She steps off the side, grips hold of the back of the another patio chair, and slides it next to Bach. After Sotalia takes her seat, Bach smiles at her. “Thanks.”

Sotalia glances over from settling into the chair. “You’re welcome. I’m damn sure not going to let you forget all the good you’ve done.”

Bach nods appreciatively and exhales slowly. Searching through her thoughts, Sotalia narrows an inquisitive stare at the end of Bach’s longer, brown hair, and smirks mischievously. “So, what are you planning on doing with that hair of yours? It’s getting really long.”

Tilting his head to the side, Bach raps his fingers upon the patio chair arm thoughtfully and shrugs his shoulders. “I guess let it grow out? I mean, I’ve let the beard happen. Might as well see where the hair goes?”

Sotalia nods, combs her long nailed fingers through her wavy hair, and perks her brow. “Totally understand. I think you could pull off that classic wizard look.”

Bach snorts and rolls his blue eyes. “Yeah. I mean, yeah, I could see myself doing that. But, honestly, with it getting colder out it might just be more practical.”

A gentle cool breeze blows across the patio. Sotalia’s eyes flit wide and she crosses her arms tightly with a squirm. Bach glances over and twists his mouth curiously. “Still going to use the hot tub when it gets cold out?”

Sotalia huffs and contorts herself contemplatively. “I’ve got a few tricks I try out. Just need to make sure I don’t ignite anything...”

Bach blinks and pivots his head. “Wait, What?”

A chime rings out over a door as it opens, and a number of people in grain dust covered clothes file in. A human server stops briefly behind the counter, presents courteous smile, and waves his arm out to the dining area. “Welcome to Pancake Shed. Sit where you like.”

The new group surveys the open seats and wanders of to an empty section. In a booth nearby, Isaac bites off a piece of his bacon and stares thoughtfully at a paper map. Tapping a finger upon a section with numerous markings, he grimaces briefly and hums to himself. Narrowing his gray eyed stare at the notes written upon the paper, he nips off a crispy bit from the piece of bacon in his hand. He rests the morsel down, wipes his fingers on a napkin, and grips the handle of a mug of coffee. Breaking his focus away from the map, his attention wanders out to the large window next to him. He gazes out into the open distance beyond the roughly paved highway next to the Pancake Shed. A tall sea of parted green covers a vast field of flat land. Isaac squints and pans his stare between the imposing rows of corn stalks. He ponders a moment, eyes the large, brown tassled ears upon the plants, and nods to himself.

A lull in conversation allows the television program to sound out over the ambient din.

On the screen, a emin man in a suit jacket speaks. “...in continuing developments, the GAA reports they are investigating the robot attack on the Amaranth Valley convention center that occurred recently. Official releases state they have secured and have cleared the convention center and surrounding areas. They are searching for the source of the rogue robots and hope to prevent any further incidents from occurring in the future.”

The view switches to another camera showing the emin man and a fvalian woman in dress attire behind a newscaster desk. The fvalian woman smiles brightly and turns to the emin man. “There’s been quite a few strange incidents in that region lately. Any indication if the events are connected, from GAA?”

The emin man shakes his head, turns his reassuring gaze to the camera, and smiles. “As of yet, the GAA has not stated any are related to each other, but they are exploring it a possibility for further consideration.”

Presenting a quick acknowledgment to the emin man, the fvalian woman stiffens her posture as the camera view switches to her. “Let’s hope it’s just been coincidence and bad luck. Which leads us to the weather forecast...”

Isaac furrows his brow under his wispy white hair and tugs at the corner of his mouth. He searches his mind with his eyes and drifts his gaze away from the television screen. Lowering his stare down to the table top, he taps his finger upon the map in a northwestern area of the region. He sorts through the X’s, notes, and marks to a number of locations within that section. Tracing a long winding route eastwards and dipping south, he settles his focus upon familiar section of map. Simple, clean circles indicate many points of interest surrounding a large “Amaranth Valley” label.

Isaac sips his coffee. After a minute of quiet study, he gradually nods into himself and pencils out a new route.

Relaxing in a recliner, the elderly, well-dressed Emanuel stares out into the evening horizon through large windows across from him. He eases out a long sigh and curls a short, satisfied smile. His eyes wander around the room of artifacts, awards, and photographs upon the walls and shelves. He idly taps his fingers upon the half-full glass of brown liquor and sorts through his thoughts. Minutes of quiet reflection pass by. A loud knock echoes through his house from the front door. He cocks his head curiously towards the source of the sound and stares in the direction. He puzzles at next series of raps sounding out from the door. He places his drink down, pulls himself up from the recliner, and slowly stretches out his back. Grimacing at another insistent chain of knocks at the door, he narrows an annoyed stare through the rooms leading to the entry. “Gods almighty... Who at this hour...”

He walks through the house to the front door and winces at a strong series of hard knocks at the door. Quickly unlocking the deadbolt and sliding out chains, he turns the door knob and cracks the door open. Recognition fills him and he smiles in surprise. “By the gods, if it isn’t the Dr. Max Malkav. How have you been?”

Max straightens up his tall frame, snarls his upper lip, and narrows his blue eyes. Emanuel furrows his brow curiously and cocks his head in confusion. “Is there something wrong-”

Dragging his hands over his tied back, stark white hair, Max glares right at Emanuel with a twitching cheek and yells out. “WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING?!”