Episode 118

Emanuel blinks his green eyes and cocks his head. Staring at Max just outside the threshold of his house, he narrows an incredulous stare and firmly grips the door frame. “Excuse me? What do you mean, what the fuck I was thinking-”

Max’s eye twitches, and he snarls his upper lip. “Don’t fucking bullshit me now, Emanuel! You damn well know exactly what I’m talking about! You sent the gods damned Dark Lord FUCKING Noxian straight to ME!”

Glancing around the darkness into the well kept front lawn of the remote house, Emanuel twists his mouth uncomfortably and narrows annoyed his gaze at Max. “I sent Isaac to you. I figured he was likely the most capable person that could possibly find you. And, I might say, he obviously did.”

Rolling his blue eyes in disgust, Max pinches the bridge of his nose, draws a long, sharp breath in, and groans loudly. “Don’t pull this shit on me, Emanuel. We’re both too old for this game.”

He glares at Emanuel, rolls his shoulders, and grimaces. “Listen, I’m willing to overlook the sheer gods damned stupidity that possessed you. But, I HAVE to know how deranged your thought process had to be you doddering, ancient FUCK UP!”

Emanuel straightens his posture, tilts his head back slightly, and glowers at Max. “Maxwell. I did what I thought was right. I would hope you’d be the one to understand the needs of someone like Isaac and assist him.”

Straining to keep his calm, Max leans his neck to one side with faint crack and angles it the other way with a hissing breath. “Oh, yeah! I helped him. The only way someone having to entertain a lunatic could... Give him just enough to satisfied, and pray that he leaves you alive afterwards!”

Focusing his contempt upon Max, Emanuel huffs derisively. “He was perfectly reasonable with me. I don’t see what the problem is with helping a former student on his path.”

Blinking disbelief, Max leans forward, grits his teeth, and growls. “Stop playing stupid. I thought we both AGREED that we were to leave Isaac be to his own path. Especially, to keep out of his supposed less-than-legal activities under his alter ego!”

Emanuel tightens a grip on the door handle, glares at Max, and stiffens his upper lip. “Yes. And... I DID. But, there was nothing in our agreement if he came to us for honest assistance-”

Snapping a point at Emanuel, Max snorts and yells out. “Oh, fuck you! Don’t you try that skirting around the language shit with me! You can be such an exacting asshole!”

He sighs long with a faint grumble, winces his eyes closed, and draws in air through his clenched teeth. “So... Are we going to keep arguing out here? Or, can I come inside, and we can discuss how to unfuck this situation you’ve put yourself in?”

Slowly pushing the door closed, Emanuel twists his mouth and shakes his head. “Max, it is late. And, I believe you need some time to calm down and become a bit more reasonable than you are currently.”

As the gap between the door edge and frame narrows, a dirt caked boot shoves itself into the divide and blocks the way. Max places a hand on the front door, leans close the opening, and grumbles out. “I’ve traveled A LONG way to be here. Don’t think I haven’t had the time to reason this all out. So, let me in and let’s talk.”

Emanuel pulls in a stiff breath, gradually nods, and sighs. “That is true. And, it would be awfully rude of me to not provide some lodging to an old friend...”

The door slowly pulls open. Max rolls his blue eyes, straightens his thin frame, and moves his hand away from the front door. “Okay. Good. Now let’s-”

Heavy wood slams against Max’s boot. Emanuel drives the solid core front door against Max’s foot in repeated attempts to close the entry without mercy. Max reflexively yanks his boot out of the way, hops back, and braces against porch support column with a yelp. Strings of curses merge into an elaborate weave of anger. Finally, Max focuses a vengeful glare that the sealed doorway. “YOU BASTARD! OW! FUCK!”

From inside the house, Manuel yells with a hint of satisfaction. “You are free to sleep in my front lawn. I will talk to you in the morning after you had a decent night of sleep... And... Stop being a petulant shit.”

Listening to the locks sound out from the other side of the heavy door, Max growls under his breath, eases himself down the front porch stairs, and limps over to his landed hover truck. He drops the back tailgate, flips up a tarp covering boxes of cargo, and searches through the dim light from the house. In the middle of his hunt, the outside lights go dark, and Max growls out. “Real fuckin’ cute, Emanuel.”

Max rummages through his pants pocket, pulls out his battered aetherphone, and taps upon the menu. A bright light shines out from the device, and he resumes his search. Minutes later, a wide, determined grin grows on Max’s face, and he hefts up a meter long, weathered crowbar. He snaps his attention over towards the house. He notices Emanuel’s short, white haired head peeking through the curtains and waves the tool at him. “Don’t worry! I got my house key RIGHT HERE!”

Emanuel’s green eyes widen, and he calls out from inside. “Don’t you gods damned dare, you lunatic!”

Max plods up to the porch, hops up the steps, and stands in front of the door. With a mean chuckle, he places the crook of the crowbar firmly against the front door. After a few hard taps against the solid wood, he calls out. “Listen, we’re having this discussion. Stop stalling and avoiding shit like you always do!”

From the other side of the door, Emanuel sounds out with heavy irritation. “I think avoiding some deluded maniac at is perfectly acceptable. Especially a deranged old, fucking twat like you! Now get off my lawn and go find some abandoned lot to park that shit heap you call a truck in.”

Silence swells out from the conflict and pushes away the natural, night-time ambiance. Cracking an amused grin, Max rhythmically raps the crook of the crowbar against the front door. “Emanuel... Come out and play... Emanuel! COME OUT... AND PLAY!”

Projecting his disgust out from inside, Emanuel yells out. “I’d like to see your ancient ass try! You’ll probably throw your back out from trying to get that crowbar into the door. No. Why don’t you just stop before I have call the cops AND an ambulance.”

Max blinks a few times and glances around while tapping the crowbar. He turns his gaze over to the side, narrows his attention to the large, tall front windows. Stepping slowly along the front porch, he constantly raps the crowbar along the brick wall of the house. “You know, you’re right. So...”

He stops in front of the middle, largest pane of glass in the frames and smirks defiantly. He harshly taps the crowbar upon the clear surface. “Your choice! You open the door, or I open the window!”

Emanuel glares from the entry room through an archway into a long dining room, and points at Max on the outside of the window. “Don’t you dare, you miserable psychopath! Gods damn it, I just got those replaced.”

Max pauses his rapping crowbar, quirks his brow, and cocks his head of tied-back white hair. “Psycho? That REAL funny coming from you. Have you forgotten your own body count in your old age? Because, I still distinctly remember where we planted a few bandits.”

Emanuel narrows a furious glare, pivots swiftly, and rushes down the hallway. Cracking a satisfied grin, Max laughs and draws back the crowbar. “Finally, dropping that fragile old man act...”

With a firm swing, the metal crook smashes through the front pane. Fractures cascade out. Shards split free. Fragments rain down upon the hard wood. Running the crowbar around the frame perimeter, Max clears out the remaining glass, stomps his boot upon the floor, and slips inside. He glances around the dimly lit house, and calls out. “Okay. I’m inside. Let’s stop this and talk now. I’ll even pay for an Adventure Burger run...”

He pauses while walking around the table, pivots partially towards the front window, and rolls his eyes. “And, the window, too.”

Cautiously investigating the house, he slowly leaves the dining room, crosses through the entry, and steps into the hallway. Glancing into the living room full of decorations and awards, Max freezes when he hears a familiar cough. Straightening his thin frame, he pivots to face down the hall and tilts his head in surprise. Emanuel smirks confidently, grips hold of a large, barrel ended rifle, and narrows his gaze. “We’ll talk about how much you are going to pay for that window... Tomorrow.”

Max squints his blue eyes, cocks his head to the side, and mutters to himself. “Is that the...”

A chuckle surges into a cackle, and he stifles a snort. “Gods almighty! That old thing?! Emanuel, you must be getting old. We never found a power cell for that vortex cannon.”

Emanuel flicks a finger across a power switch. Illuminated channels ignite to life across the weapon, a low hum builds to a higher pitch whine, and a faint glow shines within the dark, wide muzzle. While Max blinks in disbelief, Emanuel grin triumphantly and laughs. “Of course, I know. That’s why I had one made to specifications I found.”

Max’s glances to either side of him, and steps out of the hall into the living room. “Okay... Well... Do you even know how to fire it?”

Emanuel lifts an indignant brow. He spins down a dial to the lowest setting, carefully aims the weapon away from the archway into the living room, and levels the sights the garage door at the end of the hallway. Squeezing the trigger fully, pulse of energy bursts out. A tight ring of translucent power zips down the hall. Air whips around the torus, stirs up dust, rattles picture frames, and ruffles loose paperwork down the length of the corridor. The ring splashes against the garage door, briefly bends the wood, and dissipates. As the blasts sounds out from down the hallway, Max peeks down towards the garage and snaps his wary gaze back at Emanuel. He slinks back into the living room and pats around his shirt. Checking his shirt pocket, he retrieves a hexagon artifact with fine, intricate channels. Reciting an incantation, he careful gestures out with one hand and flows magical energy with his other into the handheld trinket. The channels in the artifact spark to life and translucent barrier forms as the device hovers up. When the transparent tower shield forms fully, Max wills the cover at the ready in front of him and calls out. “You aren’t the only one with new tricks!”

The hovering shield launches out into the hallway with Max behind it. He charges down the length. Emanuel grits his teeth, levels his aim, and hesitates as his sights wander away from Max’s outline. The hovering barrier stops short of Emanuel and forces him to point the weapon away. Max reaches around the shield, grips hold of the weapon in Emanuel possession, and yanks it free. Switching the device off, and tossing it to the side, Max snaps his full attention to Emanuel and huffs. “Okay, you stubborn bastard, ready to give up-”

A right hook into Max’s face ends the sentence. While Max recovers and the tower shield spell drifts off, Emanuel flexes his arms, readies his stance, and plants his feet on the floor. Shaking back to his senses, Max barely gets his defense up when Emanuel deftly unleashes a flurry of blows. Strike after strike fall upon Max and dive him back down the hall. Emanuel’s body tenses in anticipation for each attempt to counter. Growling out his frustration, Max grits his teeth, snorts out a spray of snot and blood, and glares back. “So, tell me, how many of those students have you conned into your old man routine?”

Emanuel cracks a smirk and laughs. “Every one of them.”

Max nods, keeps his distance from Emanuel, and chuckles. “Yeah... Figures...”

He immediately drops down low, lunges into Emanuel’s mid section, and grapples onto him. Emanuel rains quick punches down upon Max in frantic anticipation. Changing his footing, Max shifts his weight, wraps his arms behind Emanuel’s legs, and jerks up. He hoists up Emanuel free from the floor, lifts him up, and sharply halts. His blue eyes widen in surprise and pain. Emanuel crashes up on the ground, and Max flops upon him.

The brief peace in the house breaks with the pained moans and groans of age and bad ideas realized. Max lifts himself off, gasps as he straightens his back to a seat on the floor, and carefully leans against the wall. Emanuel coughs, slides up against an opposing wall, and flexes his popping fingers. After a few seconds, the two old men gaze at each other. Cracking mutual smirks, Max sighs. “We’re still idiots, I guess.”

Emanuel winces and nods. “Obviously.”

Glancing down the hallway to the archway leading to the living room, Emanuel motions into the room. “Grab the whiskey.”

Max nods, slides his butt along the wooden floor with grimaces, and reaches around into the room. “The opened one?”

Emanuel shakes his head and laughs. “No. The good one.”

Max pauses, blinks in surprise, and grips hold of a dusty, seal bottle. “Where did you find this?”

He admires the finely crafted label, the dark, clear amber color inside, and dated seal. “You sure?”

Emanuel nods and sighs. “Certainly. I promised that if you came back, I’d share it with you.”

Max scoots slowly back near Emanuel. He breaks the seal, pulls the cork, and holds the bottle out to Emanuel. “Your booze, your house, you first.”

Emanuel grips the neck of the glass, slugs a healthy portion back, and passes it back. Max pours back a long swig of the dark liquor, and rests the bottle between them. He shakes his head at Emanuel. “Why does it always taste better after we get the shit beaten out of us?”

Rolling his green eyes, Emanuel combs back his white hair with his fingers, glances around, and shrugs his shoulders. “I do not know.”

The two share a few moments of silence. Emanuel twist his mouth, rests his head against the wall, and sighs. “So how do you want to handle my situation?”

Max barely shrugs his shoulders with a wince, gazes at Emanuel, and tugs at the corner of his mouth. “Don’t know. All depends on what the hell you were thinking...”

Bach hoists up a rolled up sleeping bag from the floor of the living area and stacks it on top of others on the couch. His blue eyes gaze over the different arrangements of supplies surrounding him, and he scratches the back of his head of longer brown hair. Glancing around towards the dining table and kitchen, he waves to Dretphi and motions around him. “Hey, um, anything else you need me to check?”

Dretphi darts her steely gray stare between the bags, boxes, and organized collections near Bach. She plays with the darker end of her platinum blonde braid and ponders out loud. “Do not think so.”

She extends her faintly gray striped, tan arm out, wanders a finger point around, and visually accounts the items. “Tents... Sleeping bags... Rations... Rope... Cookware... Blankets... Covers...”

Bach glances down around him, pivots slowly to assess the supplies, and slowly nods. “Yeah, it looks like all the normal things are here. At least, to me. I don’t think we’re going to be gone for as long as we were for Perimeter, but... You know.”

Dretphi smiles warmly, walks over near Bach, and crosses her muscular arms. “I do.”

She furrows her brow, cocks her head, and eyes Bach with a smirk. “Any requests?”

Bach thinks a moment, searches his mind, and idly pats the pockets of his pants. “Not really. I saw what you had packed in the cooler.”

He smiles back at Dretphi. “I think you got it covered.”

A proud smirk grows on Dretphi’s face and she nods. “Good. Let me know otherwise.”

From the archway leading into the hallway, Sotalia walks out into the living area next to the dining table. She combs her long, black nailed fingers through her fiery orange, wavy hair, and holds up a paper list with her other hand. Her golden eyes focus upon the lines of items, descriptions, quantities, and notes, while her hand feels a black, swept-back horn on her head. An amused smirk appears on her lighter tan, dark gray edged face, and she snickers. “Gods, girl. I swear I don’t know if I’m reading a reagent list or the ingredients for some elaborate dessert.”

Stepping next Sotalia from the hallway, Aristespha glances over at the list and rolls her violet eyes with a snort. “It’s something with that whole practice of magic. Despite the complicated incantations and diagrams, these spells require the most mundane reagents.”

She brushes back her long, silvery blue hair over her very long, pointed ears. Donning a curious expression, she gazes over to Bach and Dretphi and rests her hands on her hips. “How is the equipment inventory?”

Bach and Dretphi exchange glances and nod towards Aristespha. Dretphi rolls the strain out of her shoulders, inspects a condiment stain on her apron, and motions towards the kitchen. “Almost done packaging meals for the trip.”

Cracking a smirk on his tan face, Bach chuckles and lifts an intrigued brow at the list in Sotalia’s hands. “I guess you figured out everything we need to get for Mark and the big ritual he’s planning.”

Aristespha shifts her weight between her feet, twists her mouth, and sighs. “I hope so. Truthfully, I’m not that versed in these types of spells. I find the measurements and components a bit... imprecise?”

Rolling her violet eyes, she briefly grits her teeth and groans playfully. “I trust Mark to get the job done. But, I can’t help to think he’s taking the opportunity to stock up his personal supplies.”

Hovering into the room through the wall, Sebastian’s ethereal form drifts onto the dining table top and he grins in good humor. “He’s not charging us money for doing all this for us. So, if wants us to do some grocery shopping for him... I think we’re still getting a good deal.”

Sotalia smirks, narrows her gaze with a quirk of her brow, and snorts. “We’re definitely doing some shopping for him. He requested a bag of limes.”

Bach blinks his blue eyes, searches his mind, and shrugs his shoulders. “He might need them for the citric acid and oils.”

Rolling her golden eyes, she tugs at the corner of her mouth, holds the list out towards Bach with one hand, and rests her free hand upon her pants. With a sway of her hips, she smirks at Bach. “Read the things after the bag of limes.”

Bach steps over, leans down to read the list, and squints. After a few moments, he stands back up straight and gazes down at Sotalia. “Okay... I mean... Alcohol is useful for all kinds of things and well...”

Meeting the unconvinced glances of Aristespha and Sotalia, he tilts his head to the side with an awkward grin and scratches his beard. “But, yeah, the two liter bottles of mixers really doesn’t help with credibility.”

Sebastian quietly snickers with an ethereal reverb, Aristespha shakes her head dismissively, Dretphi blinks in disbelief, and Sotalia subdues a snicker. The garage door in the kitchen opens up. Cideeda walks across the floor with faint clicks of her claws tapping upon the surface. Her emerald green eyes focus upon the gathering in the living area, and her furry ears perk up. “Okay, I got to know what you all talking about. I heard something about limes?”

Cideeda wipes her hands upon a stained rag, and methodically cleans the specks of machine grease and grime off her fingers. She cracks a toothy grin upon her light brown face and studies the attitudes of everyone. Sotalia presents the list to Cideeda when she steps around the dining table. “Girl, read the last few things on the list.”

Cideeda perks her brow, cocks her head of short, multicolored hair, and idly wags her long, medium-length furred tail. She narrows her emerald gaze, flicks a furry ear, and contorts her face with suspicion. “Well, I hope we get to enjoy whatever drinks he’s planning on making.”

Rolling her eyes, she wrestles a flit of annoyance into a grit of her teeth. “Especially since we are paying for it.”

A renewed fit of snickers and laughs sound out from the team. After a lull from the humor, Aristespha fights against her concern and dons a faint frown. She gazes at Bach and inquires. “Now, Bach, there’s a good chance we may deal with some demanding spirits that will want Elder energy payment, if they sense it around. I’m confident that Mark commands enough respect that they should listen to him. But... I don’t want to put you on the spot like last time.”

Bach’s focus wanders internally, and he sighs long. Debating himself quietly, his expression waivers between degrees of determination and moments of worry. Within the surrounding quiet, he blinks back to attention of the team and draws in a long breath. Straightening his posture, he presents an appreciative smile to Aristespha. “It should be fine. Really. At this point, I just want to get this done and over with.”

His mood darkens briefly and he sighs. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m a little tired of this whole Isaac, um, Noxian thing. If we can get whatever he’s after shut down, then I’m ready to do what needs to be done. It’s a small price to finish this up.”

Sebastian nods with a reassuring smile to Bach and drifts his visage closer. “That’s the plan, bro. We get Mark’s help to find it. Then... We shut it down. Or, fuck it up beyond recognition. I’m really not picky at this point.”

Bach smirks at his brother. Blinking upon a thought, he tilts his head to the side. “I just wish I knew what this thing looked like exactly. Any ideas yet?”

Crossing his arms, Sebastian ponders to himself and contemplates. “Yeah, bro, I still don’t know. I’ve been racking my brain on everything since Anta. But, nothing sticks out. So, we’re flying blind on this one.”

Dretphi grimaces with a faint grumble. “Nothing previous is relevant. All new.”

Shaking her head, Aristespha holds up her ivory hand with a shrug. “I have yet to turn up anything other than historical documents about known anchor points. Unfortunately, this sounds like a unique structure. So, I don’t think we can completely trust our references to determine what it looks like.”

Bach nods in understanding and smirks. “Yeah, I figured that was the case.”

Rolling his blue eyes, he chuckles. “The harder, convoluted way it is.”

Rapping her claw tips upon the dining table, Cideeda smirks and shakes her head. “You know, given our usual luck, that means it’ll work out just fine.”

The team quietly ponder the sentiment. Eventually, they arrive to humor and dismissive acceptance.

Trakenthin leans his tall frame through the laundry room doorway, darts his hazel eyes around the room, and slips into the space. He carefully presses himself against the nearby wall, and reaches up with his dark bronze arms. With a tight grip around the cable connecting the mounted camera, he plucks the tether free. Peeking out around the door frame, he smirks satisfied and motions everyone else in.

Tassilda, Deedri, and Modoran quickly step on through into the utility area, and Chad stares down the hallway. After a few seconds, he walks into the room, and Trakenthin securely shuts the door behind him. Drawing in a long breath, Chad straightens his posture pans his brown eyed gaze at everyone else. “This is probably a little overkill now, to be honest. I don’t think anyone is really paying attention to this thing now.”

Crossing her gray arms, Tassilda perks her brow, rolls her light blue on blue eyes, and smirks. “I believe so, too. I actually haven’t see anyone with a camera in a few days now.”

A relieved sigh escapes her, and she tosses back her raven black hair and feels her swirling horns. “Gods, it has been... Nice.”

Deedri scoots over on top the dryer closer to Modoran and leans her head upon his shoulder. “They stopped trying sneak around and record us. We walked past a few teams, and they didn’t even acknowledge us.”

Narrowing her auburn eyes, she quirks her brow and flicks her furry, tufted ear. “I’ve overheard a lot of discussions about work conditions and pay raises.”

A sly grin cracks out from the corner of her mouth upon her fair face, and she wraps her arms and long tail around Modoran. “While I hope they get what they want... I hope it takes time for it to happen. A lot of time.”

While standing against the washer next to the dryer, Modoran smirks lovingly at Deedri, puts an arm around her, and chuckles. “Unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll last for too long. They still need to produce episodes for the show.”

He furrows the brow on his dusky bluish gray face, tilts his head of short, white hair, and narrows his dark blue eyes at Chad. “Any idea what their plans are at this point? I mean... There’s only so much filler you can stick together to stretch whatever they got from the convention center.”

Chad crosses his tan arms, straightens his posture, and addresses the team. “Well... The official word I got is that they just want us to help out close out the season. It seems like they just need us to act out scenes for drama, and they’re going to patch them together to make something... Well, coherent?”

He shrugs his shoulders and scratches the back of his short, light brown coiffed hair. “Yeah... That’s about it. The crew problems are almost shutting down production. Gerald dropped his notice. Samantha barely can keep employment negotiations going...”

Narrowing an amused gaze towards Trakenthin, Chad grins slyly and chuckles. “And rumor has it, that Howard has gone quiet over quite a few lawsuits recently filed by a very litigious grath woman...”

Trakenthin combs his hands through his short, styled blonde hair, crosses his arms behind his head, and casually leans against the wall with a smug smile. “My house mother believes elements of my contract were not honored. Sent me contact information to give out. We signed the same contract.”

The rest of the team blinks, exchange glances, and retrieve their aetherphones. Tassilda taps through the menus on her phone with her long, black nailed fingers, and eyes Trakenthin with an eager smirk. “I think I might need to talk to your house mother. Please send me a copy of her contract information, if you could?”

Deedri eyes the screen on her aetherphone, idly plays with her braided multi-color hair, and grits her teeth briefly. “Me too, please?”

While Trakenthin types up a message, a sinister smirk appears on Modoran face, and he chuckles to himself. “Sounds like I need to introduce her to my family’s lawyer.”

After team members receive messages and eagerly store contact information, the group idles in quiet for a few moments. Glancing her auburn eyes around, Deedri slowly draws in a wary breath, presents a pleasant, wary smile to Chad, and sighs reluctantly. “So... I have to ask... since you recently saw her... How is Veevi doing?”

Chad blinks to attention, notices the interest of the surrounding team, and twists his mouth. Wrestling a mix of uncertainty and confusion, he settles upon a light smirk with a hint of hope in his tone. “All things considered, she’s doing good actually. She’s trying to figure out things.”

Flits of suspicion bounce between Deedri, Modoran, Tassilda, and Trakenthin. Watching the apprehension build momentum in the team, Chad pulls a long breath through his nose, stands up straight, and addresses everyone. “I know. I know. I didn’t know what to expect when I got there. But... Something is different. I don’t quite know how to say it...”

He narrows his stare distantly into his mind and ponders out loud. “It’s like... Um... It’s like the facade is gone. Whatever was there that wanted the attention that put up the fake front... I didn’t experience it at all. It felt like I was talking to someone else.”

A faint frown curls at the corner of his mouth, and he furrows his brow with a trailing cadence. “Someone that’s been hiding...”

Tassilda tenses up her shoulders, crosses her arms, and narrows an unconvinced stare at Chad. “Could be another new act for attention. A new twist to her usual routine.”

Holding up his hand, Modoran works a grimace off his face, rocks his head side to side, and searches his mind. “Well... Maybe not? I don’t know. After going through what she did, this might be an honest attempt to turn towards a better path. Nearly dying puts things into perspective.”

Summoning up an understanding tone, Modoran pleads with tinges of compassion. “I hate for this to be a genuine attempt to do better and for us to shut it down without giving her a chance. I don’t know. I just know how that feels.”

Chad grits his teeth briefly and gazes over the team. “That brings me to something I wanted to ask everyone... How would you all feel if she was to come back to the house?”

Watching the building surge of rejection bubbling in the team, he holds up his hands and motions the gathering to wait. “She explicitly wanted to make sure everyone would be okay with it. And, she understands if anyone is against it. From what she told me, she just wanted to get out of the clinic and sleep in a normal bedroom.”

Hesitation manifests into defensive body language from Deedri, Tassilda, and Trakenthin. Modoran shrugs sympathetically to Chad and twists his mouth uneasily. Chad sighs and nods. “I know. I know. It’s just...”

He searches his mind and recounts his memory. “She seems different now. Again, it’s hard to explain. I went in expecting one thing, and I got something else. There was no attitude. She was just sitting on the bed, and just happy to see me. She had totally forgotten it was her birthday. It seems that after a falling out with her mother, she had completely lost track of everything.”

Crossing his arms, he narrows his gaze internally and ponders out loud. “It just didn’t seem like the Veevi we’ve had to suffer through. It feels like there was some honesty in what she said. After she split her cupcake with me, we talk about things that have happened...”

As Chad continues relaying the discussions with Veevi, Tassilda and Trakenthin focus upon a single point in Chad’s last statement. Gradually, their thoughts wear down the defensive front and hesitation wanes to cautious acceptance. Refocusing back upon his original question, Chad gazes over the team and sighs. “Well, I guess, I think something is different now. And, maybe we should at least let her stay until the show is over, and they close things out here. But... Only if everyone is okay with it.”

Tense silence weighs down upon everyone. Seconds later, Tassilda rolls her light blue on black eyes and groans. “If she tells me where she hid my spell book, I will give her a chance.”

With prompting a glance from Tassilda, Trakenthin narrows a stern stare at Chad. “If she informs me of where my box is, I will do the same.”

Inhaling a long breath through her nose, Tassilda stiffens her posture and tenses her body while gritting her teeth. “Gods, it has taken every bit of my patience to keep quiet about those. But, I know if I mentioned it before, she’d remember and do something bad. Thank the gods, she got distracted with everything else and didn’t try anything.”

Trakenthin nods in solidarity with Tassilda, and refocuses his stern stare on Chad while crossing his arms. Chad thinks a moment. “Even if we don’t agree to let her stay here, I’ll talk to her to get that info and send it to you as soon as possible.”

With tentative agreements from Tassilda and Trakenthin, Chad gazes to Modoran and Deedri. Noticing the glance from Chad, Modoran nonchalantly shrugs his shoulders and smirks. “Fine with me. If she really is trying to do better, I’m not going to stop her.”

Attention shifts to Deedri. Darting her auburn eyes between the rest of the team, Deedri frowns and tightens her hold of Modoran. She dons a defiant grimace, sighs her frustration, and remains quiet as she deliberates. Moments later, Modoran cranes his head around, smiles lovingly, and gazes into Deedri’s eyes. “If we promised to throw her outside and lock her out if she tries anything, would that make feel better about it?”

With a tight smirk, Deedri rolls her eyes and snorts with a hint of laughter. “I guess. I just have been enjoying the quiet so much.”

Chad nods in agreement and grins reassuringly. “I make that a stipulation, too. She starts drama, she starts packing. Does that sound fair to you?”

Flicking her tufted, furry ears, Deedri sighs and smiles. “Yes. I would be okay with that rule.”

Checking his aetherphone, Chad examines the time on the clock display and looks over the team. “Okay. Thank you everyone. I know that was a lot to ask of you all, but I appreciate you giving her this chance. And, as strange as it sounds given the past, I think she will appreciate it, too. We’ll see.”

He cracks open the door to the laundry room, peeks outside, and signals Trakenthin to the wall-mounted camera. “Okay, looks clear.”

Team quickly departs with Chad leading the way, and Trakenthin plugs the camera back in before slipping out the door.

Slowly chewing on a bite from a greasy burger, Max shifts his jaw around and rubs his face with his free hand. After a few moments, he eyes Emanuel across the dining table with an amused smirk and snorts. “Fuck... I always forget you actually boxed back in school.”

Plucking a fried potato wedge from a large pile in the middle of the table top, Emanuel squirms in his chair, straightens his back with a wince, and adjust a pillow underneath him. He narrows his gaze at Max and rolls his eyes. “Well, it seems I needed to be reminded that you wrestled, too. So, I guess we’re equally forgetful in our old age.”

Max nods, shifts his attention to a paper wrapped sandwich in between them, and point towards it. “Are the Trap Chicken Specials still as good as I remember them?”

Emanuel slides over the colorfully labeled bundle over to Max and nods with a smile. “Of course. Adventure Burger knows better than to change a winning recipe like that. Help yourself.”

Setting down his partially eaten burger, Max picks up the Trap Chicken Special, opens up the wrapper, and sniffs the aroma. A nostalgic grin grows across his face and he chuckles quietly. “That sauce you can smell anywhere. Gods, I bet they haven’t changed the fryer grease for months... So... Good...”

Cocking his head to the side, Emanuel smirks and perks his brow. “I guess there is a scarcity of fine dining down in the PWZ then?”

Max pauses to think after a bite, and searches around his mind with his blue eyes. “Oh, if you are in Precipice there’s a few amazing places. But, you are on your own once you leave there. I’ll admit, I stayed extra days at the Inn just for another good meal.”

A disgusted groan slips out with his sigh, and he grimaces. “There’s only so much you can do to make noodles and ration packs flavorful. After you rotate through the same freeze dried meat chunks, it starts to get old... real quick...”

A lull in conversation allows the two men to enjoy their adventuring themed fast food. Minutes later, Max carefully eases back into his chair and winces briefly as he shifts his weight. “So, regardless of what you do, I have to turn in what info I have to the Grand Library. That’s also going to include the whole encounter with Isaac.”

He twists his mouth uneasily and narrows inquisitive stare at Emanuel. “It’s probably going to bring a lot of trouble your way. Especially, since it seems like every other government in the area has parked themselves up the administration’s collective asses.”

Tilting his head in anticipation, he draws in a long breath and hums. “So... What do you plan on doing? Because, I’m certain they going to follow everything back to you.”

Emanuel slowly nods, releases a long sigh, and contorts his face uncomfortably. “That is the crux of my problems.”

Max grits his teeth and darts his gaze around. “Not to shit on your life here, but... I don’t have any option, since I got a lot of funding from the Grand Library in the first place for this expedition.”

Cracking an understanding smirk, Emanuel glances over to Max and shakes his head. “Oh, I know. Oddly, it could be seen as some kind of karmatic justice, since I did send him your way to begin with.”

He lifts up the large, Adventure Burger branded paper cup up, and sips a long swing of the dark, carbonated beverage. “I’ll give them most of the truth. I did meet up with Isaac and humored him a bit. I’ll claim that I initially had my doubts about Isaac being Noxian.”

A sly, smile appears on his face and he sorts through the thoughts in his head while swirling the ice inside his drink. “But, I was in too deep when newfound suspicions got confirmed. Then, I did what I thought at the time would cause the least amount of damage to everyone.”

Max narrows his stare at Emanuel and twist his mouth. “Which was?”

Emanuel shrugs his shoulders, takes another long draw of his beverage, and snorts dismissively. “Told a few well placed lies, and hoped I had sent Isaac off on a wild goose chase down in the PWZ. Something similar to what every one of the older Grand Library administrators would be guilty of.”

Rolling his eyes, Max nods in frustrated agreement. “Yeah... That’s the truth.”

Narrowing his green eyes, Emanuel furrows his brow and rocks his head of well kept white hair side to side in deliberation. “If it was just the Grand Library, I think this would be over in a day. I’m retired and helped them smooth over a few other situations. But...”

Max groans and contorts the growing discomfort on his face. “GAA, Appaland, COIL, PDF, and even Vukasin... to name a few.”

Pulling a long breath through his nose, Emanuel shakes his head and gazes out a pane of the large front window not broken and covered by plastic. He stares into the fading evening light, sighs deeply, and wrestles the unease in his expression. “They don’t have that much hold here. And, hopefully, I can provide enough information that they’ll figure further pursuit would not be worth their time.”

Max weighs the options and ponders out loud. “That just might work. From a few conversation I’ve had with Nash and Harvos, everyone is busy chasing down other things and addressing concerns directly related to their own needs. If you give them a few choice bits, they should see you as cooperative enough and just write you off after a certain point.”

He pauses a moment, settles a stern stare upon Emanuel, and directs a demanding tone. “So, what are you going to tell Nash and Harvos? They seem like good kids. I think they deserve some kind of explanation from you.”

Emanuel nods, frowns slightly, and shifts his gaze to Max. “Indeed. I think it’d be best to tell them the truth.”

Max quirks his brow and eyes Emanuel suspiciously. After a few moments, Emanuel shrugs his shoulders and smirks. “Well, I did lie to them to protect them. That’s the honest truth of the matter. They didn’t need to dig after someone like Isaac, and I threw them off the trail in hopes they wouldn’t pursue it further after getting some feasible explanation. You’re right, they are good. Gods know they’ve been cleaning up after our messes. Last thing I wanted them to have to do is clean up after this.”

Darting his eyes around his head, Max slowly arrives to a nodding agreement. “Yeah. I think that’ll work. Sorry, I have to be the one to start the chain reaction of investigations, but...”

Emanuel shrugs his shoulders and smiles simply. “You know as much as I, that you can only delay the truth for so long. Admittedly, I was hoping such would come to light long after I was gone or no longer lucid. But, I’ve gotten tired of keeping track of the complicated fabrications. This will be a way to lighten the load a bit.”

Max rolls his eyes, shakes his head at Emanuel, and smirks with a sarcastic tone. “Oh yeah, I’m certain this will noticeably light your load.”

Lifting a humored eye brow, Emanuel snorts and chuckles. “As if I’m the only one...”

Max holds his hand up and furrows his brow. “I didn’t say that. I’ve got plenty I’ll need to pay for in the future. Speaking of which, past me the alchemist fire sauce...”

After Emanuel tosses over a few foil packets to Max, the two reminisce about past adventures and other wild tales.

The humvee powers up a gradual incline, crests over the top, and coasts down the paved highway. Cideeda squints her emerald eyes ahead through the early morning light, navigates the gentle curves of the road, and flicks her furry ears with her thoughts. “I’ll miss this went we get out of GAA territory. It’s going to get real bumpy.”

Upon the way back bench seat, Dretphi arches her back up, shifts another pillow underneath her, and settles back down. She taps a player interface on her aetherphone, and watches a video on the screen. Sotalia pivots in her front passenger seat, glances between Bach and Aristespha, and perks her brow. “So, what’s the plan for tonight? Any places worth staying at along the way?”

Aristespha blinks her violet eyes back to attention, looks away from her tablet, and meets Sotalia’s inquisitive gaze. “Unfortunately, no. All routes take us too far from Goff’s. And, the other options are... questionable, at best.”

Bach lifts up his aetherphone, turns the screen towards Sotalia, and grimaces with a hiss. “Yeah... You should read some of these reviews.”

Brushing her fiery orange, wavy hair over her swept back horns, Sotalia reads the text on the display to a forming frown of disgust. “Oh. My. Gods... So, I guess we’re camping tonight?”

Stifling a snort, Bach glances over to Aristespha with a twist in his smirk. “I think that’s the plan, right?”

Aristespha nods slowly and draws in a deep breath. “Yes. Given my research, I think it’d be a more pleasant experience.”

Sebastian’s voice sounds out from the sword within its scabbard in the middle aisle. “We might as well get used to it, since that’s what we are doing once we get to Mark’s camp.”

Turning back around, Sotalia settles back in her seat, stretches her arms out, and smiles. “Works for me. Especially, after reading that one review.”

Tinges of disgust and traces of horror rise in Sebastian’s ethereal tone. “The sad part is that I read far worse ones. I’m not even tangible, and I wouldn’t want to be around those places.”

Sotalia narrows her stare ahead, furrows her brow, and retrieves her aetherphone from her yoga pants pocket. “Okay, NOW I have to read this.”

Bach shakes his head, glances at Aristespha, and diverts his gaze out his window. Sebastian trails off. “You’ve been warned...”

Searching the northern skies, Bach sighs to himself and frowns distantly. He sorts through his thoughts, and works flits of emotion off his face. His blue eyes look far into the horizon.

A reflexive groan of disgust from Sotalia catches his attention, and he twists a sly smirk. “Oh, if you think that’s bad, look at the next one. There’s pictures.”

An eager grin widens on his face, and he leans out into the aisle in anticipation. Sotalia’s golden eyes widen, and she turns her gaze away from the phone screen with a grossed out shudder. Only a string of emin curses leave her lips, and various snicker fill the cab.

The sun glints off the lenses of a pair of binoculars peeking out from thick brush. On a hill next to a long stretch of highway, another camouflaged soldier crawls up next to another. While one slowly pans the optics along the road way, the other squints out to the horizon and searches. Minutes of peaceful morning pass under the windy skies with beams of sun slipping through white clouds. The lookout taps the shoulder of the binocular wielding scout and points towards activity on the road.

As the blue all terrain truck rolls into view, the two soldiers shift their positions and focus their full attention upon the vehicle. A wandering ray of light coasts over their location, and faint reflections of GAA insignia reflect under the bright illumination. Patiently watching the truck roll along with a single driver with white, wispy hair and a blue scarf around his neck, the two soldiers whisper to each other. After confirming nods, the lookout retrieves a field radio from nearby, keys up the device, and speaks. Second later, a message crackles out. “Confirm. We picked him up on remote cameras and drones. Please send us the time of contact and coordinates.”

The lookout with the radio glances over to the soldier with binoculars. After a few moments, a sneering grin widens on the man’s face and he adjusts the focus on his binoculars. “Welcome back to the GAA... You son of a bitch.”