Episode 120

Tassilda adjusts the pillows behind her back. She glances around the top of her bed, settles into a comfortable spot in the middle, and relaxes upon the cushions. She pans a slow gaze around her neatly arranged room, pausing to look upon the clean desk, put away books on shelves, and a folded laundry pile. After staring through the afternoon sun glowing upon her window blinds into the outside world, she draws in a long breath and sighs out the tension in her shoulders. Pulling back her raven black hair over her swirling horns, she inspects her long, thick black finger nails and frowns slightly at a minute chip at a tip. Feeling the blemish, she rolls her light blue on black eyes and shakes her head. Her attention drops down to a plain, leather bound book. Picking up the tome in her hands, she smiles with satisfaction and supports the spine carefully. She opens the book, flips through the pages, and settles upon a partially inked page opposite a blank section. Her eyes dart around the detailed diagrams, sections of finely written notation, and penciled in comments. Minutes of study pass, and her light gray brow furrows with concentration.

Her focus locks to the end of a paragraph and her hand plucks up an ink pen from a case next to her on the bed. Drawing up her sweat pants covered knees, she supports the back of the leather bound book against the top of her thighs. Hovering the tip of the ink pen over the page, she narrows her eyes upon the wording of the sections of text above and contemplatively hums to herself. Perking her brow, she meticulously writes out further explanations in Emin, carefully minding the alignment and width of the sentences upon the paper. In between pondering pauses, she fills out the page with new paragraphs. She switches over to a small arrangement of pencils with different tints of color. With methodical precision, she inscribes new drawings of magical patterns and arrangements of symbols, switching between different colors.

Noises outside her bedroom interrupt her studies. Tassilda blinks back to awareness and summons her attention to the movement visible through the gap under her door. Narrowing her stare, she glances at her work, gently blows the last sheen of wet ink dry, and gently sets her spell book off to the side. Sliding slowly off her bed, she quietly stands up on her floor and stealthily slinks up to door on her balls of her sock covered feet. Thinking a moment in front of entrance, she straightens her posture, stiffens her upper lip, and tightly grips the knob. With swift twist and quick pull, she opens the door, and her stare hunts for a target. Her light blue on black eyes snap to Veevi partially leaning down.

Veevi freezes in place and pauses mid motion. With her pink pupil eyes wide open, she stiffly stands up straight, dons an awkward smile, and nervously chuckles. “Uh, um, hey... Tassilda...”

Tassilda’s cold stare wanders down to the package in Veevi’s hands. A spark of recognition of the fanciful Emin script puzzles her. Veevi glances down at the box, grins uneasily at Tassilda, and presents the box of Emin chocolates. “Well, um, these are for you.”

Tilting her head to the side, Tassilda blinks out her confusion and cautiously accepts the parcel of treats. “These are...”

Veevi cracks a smile, flicks her fuzzy ears, and combs down the spooked fur on her tail. “A replacement box of those chocolates of yours I... um... ate. I think I got the right ones. There was a lot of different one and I had to use a translator app to figure out the Emin.”

Twisting her mouth uncertainly, Tassilda cocks her head to the side and examines the box. After inspecting the different sides, she nods slowly and furrows her brow. “Yes. These are the right ones. I’m curious...”

Holding her arms tightly, Veevi maintains a weak smirk and averts her gaze. “Oh, I found a specialty shop in Amaranth Valley on the Aethernet and got a delivery service to get them here.”

Tassilda gazes at Veevi, grimaces through her suspicion, and lifts an intrigued brow. “Okay. But... Why?”

Veevi blinks, brushes back stray pink strands of her long, pink hair, and laughs uncomfortably with a tugs at the corner of her mouth. “Well, um. It’s something my counselor suggested. You know, try to make the amends you can to your past wrongs. Correct the mistakes you are able. That kind of stuff. The little things... really...”

Narrowing her stare upon Veevi, Tassilda alternates between hints of suspicion and unamusement. Veevi notices the attention and emerging expressions, and pulls into a deep breath. “D-don’t worry. I know that I can’t fix everything. But... Replacing things like this is something that I can do.”

A surge of nervous laughter colors Veevi’s tone, and she shrugs her shoulders with a fading smile. “And, my counselor said it’s progress, no matter how small it seems to other things I’m working on... like dealing my mother-”

She flits her eyes wide in surprise and embarrassment and closes her mouth tight. Tassilda focuses her scrutiny upon Veevi. As her eyes watch the body language and shifts in expressions, her gaze softens. Glancing down briefly at the box of Emin treats, Tassilda sighs and voices a genuine tone. “Thank you, Veevi.”

Perking her fuzzy ears, Veevi tilts her head up and gazes at her with a smile. Tassilda quirks her brow and maintains a reserved expression on her light gray face. “While I’m not forgiving you for everything else... You’ve made good on this.”

Silent pressure weighs down on the two. Tassilda darts her gaze around, squirms her uncomfortably, and sighs. “And... Mothers can be troublesome. It is understandable to have difficulties.”

With a few blinks of surprise, an appreciative smile grows on Veevi, and she nods. “Uh, yeah. It’s not easy...”

She glances awkwardly around, steps back, and points to her room. “I’m sorry I bothered you. I just wanted to get that to you. So... You have a nice day, I’m going back to my room.”

With an acknowledging nod, Tassilda watches Veevi swiftly step over to her bedroom door and disappear inside. She studies the box in her hands, inspects the intact seal with her fingers, and shakes her head in disbelief. Lifting her chin up, her eyes dart over to another section of the hallway and spot a six pack of grath beer in front of Trakenthin’s bedroom door. Honest surprise opens her mouth and she furrows her brow. After a few moments, she covers her lips with her hand and searches her mind. Glancing between the Emin treats and the Grath beer, she settles a long stare upon Veevi’s bedroom door. Blinking, Tassilda steps back into her room and taps a finger upon the door while another thought pauses her. Slowly closing the door, she glances once more through the shrinking gap towards Veevi’s room, and returns to her new thoughts.

The late, orange sun light beams through the large opening above in the surrounding forest canopy. Bach stands up straight, wipes the sweat off his brow, and gazes down at a section of the massive stone dais in the woods. He narrows his blue eyed stare at the numerous carbon caked inscriptions upon the lighter rock and leans down with his hands on his knees. After seconds of study, he steps closer to a rock slab upon the surface. With the toe of his boot against the huge stone tile, he firmly taps the intricately carved piece a centimeter to the side. He leans down again, scrutinizes the positioning of the rock tablet against flow channels surrounding it on the dais. Standing back up fully, he scratches the back of his head of longer brown hair and glances around. He spots Aristespha nearby, waves for her attention, and motions down at the section of stacked stonework. “I think this one is in place now. Everything lines up and the channels are ready to be painted.”

Aristespha blinks her violet eyes, follows Bach’s point, and nods in agreement. “That seems right. Correct, Mark?”

Mark combs his bushy beard, squints his eyes, and shrugs with a grin. “Ah, it looks close enough. Anyway, Dretphi and Cideeda seems like they got the hang of getting it in place and painting the connections.”

He chuckles with a smirk as he wanders over to inspect the latest finishing touches from Cideeda and Dretphi. “I’m going to do some test flow anyway to make sure everything is in place. They put a lot checkpoints on these.”

Dretphi grips the edges of the stone tablet upon the rock dais, tenses her muscles, and gradually aligns the markings of the slab. Focusing her steely gray gaze upon the faint grooves shifting onto each other, she grimaces with the careful adjustment. She stops, releases the stonework, and perks her curious brow at Cideeda. Wagging her long tail, Cideeda lowers her head close to the many dark lines in the rock, darts her emerald green gaze between the gaps, and slowly nods her head. “That looks right.”

Her hand pats around off to the side, fingers feel a very old jar, and claw tips rap upon the glass. Drawing the container close, she swirls around a stiff paint brush in the thick, inky mix inside with her free hand. Plucking the brush out, she wipes out the excess paint on the lip of the jar and deftly guides the tip over a corner intersection between two channels. With careful strokes, she layers on a join to link the two flow pathways. Mark nods with a satisfied smile and chuckles to himself. “Ah, you two got it. You kids learn fast.”

Sebastian coasts down from a high hover, lands next to Aristespha, and peeks over her shoulder. “I think all the pieces are in place, dear. At least, it looks like what’s on your tablet now.”

Inspecting her tablet, Aristespha slides her ivory fingers on the screen and zooms in on sections of the composite imagery and sighs with a thankful smile. “That is good, Sebastian. We’ll test it before the ritual tonight.”

Glancing around briefly, she leans close to Sebastian and whispers. “This is honestly the biggest one of these type of spells I’ve done. Figuratively. And, quite literally.”

A confident, loving smile appears on Sebastian’s ethereal form, and he replies with a reassuring tone. “Mark thinks it’ll work, and we’re checking on everything else. Don’t worry, dear.”

Easing out a long breath, Aristespha cracks a happy smirk and pulls back a wind freed lock of silvery blue hair over her very long, pointed ear. “Thank you for the vote of confidence.”

Nearby Bach blinks back to awareness from an idle stare up into the reddish orange skyline, and surveys the massive, circular platform. He wanders his gaze between different arrangements of stone tablets and drying paint. Glancing over to Mark, he crosses his arms and furrows his faintly sun reddened brow. “Anything else you need from me? It looks like things are... roughly in place?”

Mark turns his head briefly, nods in agreement, and waves Bach off. “Yep. It’s looking good. Sit down for a bit. It’s been a hot one today.”

Bach swiftly pivots and walks off the stone dais towards the shade. As his eyes adjust to the change in light, he watches Sotalia washing a wave of translucent energy over a stone bench with one hand and directing heated flow away. She promptly lays down upon the frosting slab and slacks her arms and legs out. A delighted moan of relief escapes her, and she relaxes upon the chilled stone. Bach stands next to her, glances down with an amused smirk, and shakes his head. “So, this is where you went.”

Sotalia cracks open a golden eye with a sly smile and laughs softly. “Yes. Oh gods. Why is it this hot in the middle of October?”

She aims a lazy stare at Bach, stretches her arms over head, and sighs. “Thank you for getting those last few slabs in place. Doing all those telekinesis spells over that hot stone took it out of me.”

Bach rolls his eyes and snorts. “Well, you could have just moved them physically.”

Narrowing an incredulous stare at Bach, a playful tone fills Sotalia’s voice. “Yes, but... Magic is what I do. Got to keep my skills in shape.”

Settling down to seat on the ground next to the bench, Bach chuckles with a smirk. “Doesn’t stop you from keeping in physical shape.”

Sotalia lifts an eyebrow and rolls her eyes with a dramatic groan. “Gods, now you’re sounding like your brother. I’ll consider it, in the future.”

Resting his arms on his knees, Bach hangs his head forward and slowly breathes out the exhaustion of the day. Sotalia watches quietly. With a slow gesture and a soft incantation under her breath, she wills misty flows towards Bach and fans of heat away with her other hand. Seconds later, a reflexive shiver snaps Bach out of his stupor and he glances around. Feeling the chilly air drift upon him, he smiles at Sotalia. “Thanks.”

Sotalia nods and quirks a curious brow. “So... How are you feeling?”

Bach blinks and cocks his head to the side. “Good, I guess?”

Narrowing her inquisitive gaze, Sotalia eyes Bach expectantly. Bach twist his mouth, rocks his head side to side, and shrugs. “Still feel off. Some times more than others. I feel better? Yeah, better overall.”

Donning a comforting smile, Sotalia softly speaks. “That’s good. Anything else?”

Bach searches his mind and wrestles grimace. “Still plenty of self-doubt?”

Sotalia furrows her brow and smirks humored. “The usual amounts?”

Rolling his blue eyes, Bach snorts and shakes his head. “Pretty much. So, business as usual.”

Squirming her back to a new spot on the cooled bench, Sotalia twists her mouth. “Whatever THAT is these days.”

Bach eyes Sotalia with an amused smirk and shakes his head. “Yeah. I swear if you all had told me half of the crazy stuff I’d probably be doing back when you first picked me up...”

Sotalia perks an intrigued brow and waits. Bach grins slyly and laughs. “I would have tried a whole hell of a lot harder to get away from all of you.”

Rolling her golden eyes, Sotalia rests her head of fiery orange, wavy hair upon the bench and snickers. “Oh gods, that was so terrible of us. You probably would have gotten away, and we would have spent weeks trying to track you down.”

Bach shakes his head and tugs at the corner of his mouth. “It wouldn’t have taken you that long. I really didn’t have much of a plan.”

Sotalia turns onto her side, rests the temple of her head on her hand, and grimaces through a flit of embarrassment. “To be fair, neither did we.”

A smile appears on Bach’s tan face, and he shrugs at Sotalia. With a warm smirk in return, Sotalia sighs and flicks a stray wave of orange hair over her swept back horn.

Sebastian drifts over to the two and motions them towards the gathering group. “It’s all been prepped now. Mark is leading us back to camp to rest up before the whole thing tonight.”

Sotalia peels herself of the cool stone bench, grumbles as she parts from the surface, and rises to her feet. “That sounds good. I could really use something to eat before anything else happens.”

Rocking forward, Bach pushes himself up to stand, stretches his back, and nods. “Yeah. That works for me.”

Sebastian leads Bach and Sotalia up with Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Mark, and the group form up back on the forest trail.

Under the dim illumination of a hovering orb, Mark inspects the engraved pathways leading to the center of the circular stone dais. He gazes up at the waxing crescent moon overhead in the star flooded sky, and rubs his hands together in anticipation. “Well, it’s dark enough, let’s get this started.”

Pivoting in place, he calls out to Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia spaced out around the perimeter of the platform. “Okay, start flowing in some energy to get the channels primed. Just a little pressure, nothing more.”

Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia exchange glances under their own magical lights. As Mark settles down upon the center point, Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia kneel down and place hands upon darkened grooves in the stonework. Prismatic flows sink into the pathways and slowly radiate through the complicated passages. As the energy seeps further out into the vast, intricate engravings, Mark breathes out calmly, crosses his legs, and closes his eyes. Waves of colorful flow waterfall down off him, soak into the stonework, and pulse brightly. The network of channels glow brighter with each burst of power into the system. Chaotic vibrations sync with the magical pumps, and orderly energies rush out down dim segments of the dais. The activity sweeps up idle flows near Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia into the arcane processes. Mark opens his glowing hazel eyes, cracks a confident grin, and calls out. “I got it from here. Stand back and watch the show.”

Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia remove their hands from the stonework as the current pressures the magical power to a new purpose. Stepping away and around the perimeter, they rejoin with Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sebastian, and all watch in growing awe. The prismatic energies surge up painted connections onto the joined stonework. Flickers of activity flutter above the sections. Magical constructs materialize and pillars of light form up into the sky. As the columns of illumination stabilize, the colorful energies flow through the fine, stone channels brighten. Drawing in a deep breath, a plume of miasma rushes out of Mark and swirls down into the torrent of powers surrounding him.

Cideeda’s ears search the area as the ambient forest din subsides. Sotalia squirms as tension forms in her shoulders, and she crosses her arms uncertainly. Surges of energy burst up the towers of light. From the center of dais, a translucent magical pulse erupts out. It radiates pass the team, phases into the forest, and fades out of sight. Sebastian’s ethereal form shudders, and he gazes over to Aristespha seeking an answer. With a reassuring smile, she nods and returns her attention to the ritual flooding the area with light.

From the surrounding trees, tiny specs of light dart out and gather upon any surface in the area. Small orbs shimmer into existence drift aimlessly around and flood the sky above. Translucent shapes wander into sight, fade into opacity, and perch upon convenient spots. Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia gawk at the thousands of entities gathering above, below, and near them. Larger beings peer out from the forest as their visages flicker tentatively into reality. Ghostly animals peek out from the brush, lean out from the trees, and coast high above in the air. Cideeda’s furry ears flick to a spot and she narrows her emerald green eyes into the distance. She points a claw tip out and tugs at Dretphi’s shirt sleeve. Searching the distant horizon, Dretphi’s steely eyes widen in surprise with a small smile. A far off radiant, ethereal glow surrounds a huge dire boar. The creature patiently watches in company of her children that attentively witness the ritual.

Sotalia’s back stiffens, and she glances around at Aristespha and Bach. Sebastian’s visage flickers, and Cideeda and Dretphi share confused stares. Hazy clouds of red materialize around the perimeter of the dais. From the forest, humanoid figures appear near the ritual site and wait patiently. A humanoid figure in old era armor steps close to the team, and the familiar messenger spirit glances over. Akalab cracks a smirk and nods a respectful greeting.

Sparks crackle from the centers of the misty crimson plumes, and entities push through the veil. The beings emerge. Humanoid creatures, with radiant figures, straighten their ethereal attire and acknowledge each other. In their surveys of the area, a few concentrate intrigued states upon Bach and narrow wary glares at the stoic Elder Geist behind. The spiritual congress settles their attention fully upon Mark and wait.

Slowly rising his feet, Mark straightens out his back, winces with a sharp breath, and eyes the nearest, prominent spirits. “It has been a while. I apologize if I have distracted you from other things, but I have an urgent request.”

A slender figure with wispy flows of energy swirling around it narrows its glowing aqua eyes, and a soft resonating voice echoes out. “We figured this was not trivial matter for THIS strong of a summoning. You have been heard.”

Orange light flickers through another tall, broad, imposing being, and a rougher tone grinds out. “What do you ask of us? What prompted this?”

Mark gestures out an incantation, guides flows to piles of nearby documentation, and the materials drift up. Ethereal copies of their contents separate and hover high up and scale up to better view. Pivoting to focus his attention upon the spiritual congress, Mark presents with a calm, explanatory tone. “We need something found, if it even exists. It’s likely an old place of power that contains a very dangerous magical mechanisms that need to be dealt with. We know the rough region it possibly is located in. We have many clues, but we don’t have time on our side to exhaustively search for it. So, I am requesting assistance in locating this place, if it should exist.”

A heavy silence presses down over the meeting. Distant echoes sound out from an angular being with a viridian aura, and it narrows shifting orbs of light at Mark. “You called us to find some place that may not even exist?”

Arms cross over the chest of a smokey being, and it sighs with loud annoyance. “How can this forgotten place be of any importance, and specifically require US to go find it for YOU?”

A sly grin cracks out the corner of Mark’s mouth, and he perks his brow while combing his bushy beard with his fingers. “The information my friends have gathered indicates it might be a backdoor access point to the Abstract Prism.”

The spiritual congress focus their full attention upon Mark. The slender figure blinks as its wispy flows shudder. “That... That should NOT be sought after. You should know that... Why are you asking us to find it for you?”

Mark sighs sadly, nods in agreement, and gazes upon the spirit. “Because someone else is already seeking it. While his knowledge isn’t as complete as what my friends have been able to acquire, the trouble is that it is still enough for him to likely find it given enough time. And... He seeks to use that access point, if it exists, to get to the Abstract Prism. We all know how well that usually goes.”

Faint signs of surprise and traces of worry spread through a few inner circle spirits. Tilting its cloaked head to the side, the tall, robed dusky entity leans forward and aims a dire yellow glare right at Mark. “With all respect due, why should YOU receive the knowledge of its possible location? It seems counter productive to find something that should not be found. Seems more prudent to allow whoever to waste their time trying to find it. They might be more likely to die before they locate it.”

Mark furrows his brow, meets the spirit’s attention, and grimaces. “He is quite capable, so the trouble remains that he could find it. Then, we have no idea where it is or how functional it could be. As risky as this proposition is, I think it makes more sense to know if it exists, where it is, and what exactly we are dealing with.”

A translucent cloud of flickering specks upon folding, layering traces brightens, and a noisy voice refines itself into speech. “That is logical. Knowing is safer than not.”

The smokey entity rumbles out a dismissive growl. “Of course it’s logical to YOU.”

The angular being with the viridian aura ethereally sighs and calmly resonates. “Let us see what the information presented indicates. Then, we’ll determine how to proceed.”

The slender spirit nods its wispy flows. “Yes. If you can excuse us. We will discuss this quickly.”

Mark shrugs his shoulders and smiles. “That’s not a problem. I know it’s a bit to ask for. Take your time.”

The most powerful entities shift their attention to the pages of ethereal notes displayed in the air above. Other humanoid spirits gather around and attentively observe the debate beyond sight or sound. As the discussion continues, the team warily exchange glances. Sebastian leans close to Aristespha and whispers. “So... Dear... What happens next?”

Aristespha blinks her violet eyes, turns her ivory face towards Sebastian, and smiles awkwardly. “Sebastian... I do not know. I just hope Mark is able to convince them.”

Bach glances behind him, gazes up at Goris, and eyes Akalab. “So, you two know how these usually go?”

Goris furrow its brow. “It depends.”

Akalab’s ethereal form crosses his arms, and he shrugs unsure. “We shall see. These are powerful beings well beyond what I am capable of. They operate on a different level. I am not even certain how Marcus Harold knows how to call them.”

Bach blinks his blue eyes, grits his teeth briefly, and turns his head back to the spiritual congress. “That makes feel good. Yeah... Real good...”

Darting her emerald green eyes around the area, Cideeda positions herself between Dretphi and Sotalia and whispers with her furry ears flickering between the chorus of strange surrounding sounds. “This is pretty tense.”

Dretphi swallows hard, maintains a stoic expression, and nods. “Indeed.”

Sotalia wraps her arms around herself, tenses her shoulders, and grimaces. “No shit, girl. Gods, I think I’d rather be back at the camp and hear about this afterwards.”

The powerful spirits shift their attentions back to Mark. The angular, viridian being gazes upon Mark with orbs of light and nods. “I will honor your request. We need to know if such exists regardless.”

A noisy tone from the cloud of light specks filters to a consistent voice. “Yes. I concur. We need to know, as the information indicates it could exist.”

Glowing aqua eyes narrow upon Mark, and the slender figure crosses its arms while wispy flows slow. “I am not certain. This could cause more problems than it solves.”

Mark nods understandingly, presents a comforting smile, and perks his brow. “I know. But, I think the problems in us not finding it are worse than the problems in finding it. My friends are committed to making sure it doesn’t function and shutting down that connection, if it does exist.”

Furrowing its brow, the being pans a hard stare through the team and flows radiate out. Seconds of examination pass over each member, with a long pause resting upon Bach. The faint hint of smile appears and the spirit nods to Mark. “I will trust you on this.”

Tall, imposing ethereal being flares up bright orange, and grinds out a loud grumble. “This will be extremely taxing on our resources. This is quite a demand.”

The cloaked, smokey entity bellows out. “Exactly! You are asking a lot from us, and I don’t see anything in return.”

Mark straightens his posture, squints, and frowns. “I know. That’s why I am calling in my favors. I don’t believe we have the luxury of time. Otherwise, I would have prepared something substantial.”

The misty robes of the smoke entity flutter, and brilliant yellow eyes pulse out from under the hood. “That’s not going to cut it.”

The orange light dims and the broad being stands resolute. “You need to provide something to compensate us.”

With a respectful nod, Mark sighs with hints of frustration and furrows his brow while he combs his fingers through his bushy beard. “I understand. Then, let me trade in favors to buy me time to assemble an acceptable payment for your services. I have quite a few resources, but it will take time to tap them.”

The imposing, tall figure remains quiet as fiery glows dims within it. The smokey entity focuses its yellow glare upon Mark. “That won’t be enough for me...”

Mark sternly stares back and frowns. “Remember... I’ve done a lot for you.”

As the stand off pressures neogations, Bach cringes with the team. He ponders and searches his mind. Darting his gaze between his thoughts, he blinks his eyes when they shift over near Akalab. Cocking his head to the side, Bach blinks his widening blue eyes. A spark of determination ignites a stoic gaze on his face. Watching the souring debate of compensation happen between Mark and the smokey entity, he stands up straight. Summoning his confidence, he draws in a deep breath, sighs, and gazes over to Aristespha. “Hey, Aristespha?”

Aristespha shudders back to attention and glances over to Bach. “Yes?”

Bach wrestles a bit of hesitance and musters an awkward grin. “Can you put that sword in something that’ll keep it quiet for a moment?”

Mark and the smokey spirit argue, with others watching on. The conversation halts abruptly. Spirits in the area settle their attention towards a single point. Bach places his boot upon the glowing, stone dais. He lifts his head of longer brown hair up, stiffens his upper lip within his beard, and narrows his glowing white eyes. The spiritual congress observe. Bach holds out his hand palm up and releases a bright white orb to hover above. While threads of elder flow condense into the ball of power, he presses a firm tone towards the hooded entity confronting Mark. “Would something similar to this convince you to honor your favors to Mark?”

Every spiritual entity in the area watch Bach. The powerful beings gawk in surprise while smaller ones drift closer. Maintaining a stoic front against the pressure, Bach sneaks a hard swallow, steadies his breathing, and stares right at the yellow eyes of the smokey being. He slides his gaze to Mark and tilts his head questioningly. Mark cracks a confident smirk with nod and addresses the dissenters. “As I said, we have quite a few resources, as evidenced by my friend. It just simply takes a little time.”

Lifting a curious brow at Bach, he continues with a grin. “But, if you show a little faith and understanding, I think we might be able to arrange a token of goodwill?”

Bach pulls in a long breath, places his free hand over the white orb, and pulses elder flow into the growing ball. “That can be arranged. And, I would like to be fair. So, I might be convinced to provide equal shares to your other associates.”

The hooded spirit blinks, notices the concentrated, demanding stares from the other powerful spirits upon the dais, and settles its smokey aura. “This is... Acceptable.”

Mark winks to Bach, pivots around, and address the spiritual congress. “Okay. My favors with a token power from my friend here. Consider it a show how serious they are.”

After a round of agreeable gestures, the lead spirits wait patiently. Bach hands off the first elder orb to the smokey entity, and faint appreciative traces flicker in its yellow eyes from under the hood. While Bach forms up another ball of power, Mark points over to Aristespha and motions her over. “Bring your tablet, they can use that information.”

Aristespha startles to attention, waves off the energies surrounding the sword at her side, and cautiously approaches. Mark directs her to the cloudy being of flickering specks and smiles reassuring. “This one understands technology.”

Glows trace upon layers mesh pathways within the being, and its voice settles to a human cadence. “Yes. I will not harm the device. Merely copy the information within. If that acceptable?”

Blinking her violet eyes, Aristespha nods with a nervous tinge and holds the device out. Flows of energy from the spiritual entity sink inside. Moments later, ethereal manifestations emerge and drift into the cloudy mass of the spirit. With a simple tilt of its essence, the being departs towards Bach. Each lead spirit takes an elder orb, studies the information drifting above the dais, and returns to hazy red mists. Pressing through the cloudy membrane, they slip out. A few humanoid spirits, dozens animal like beings, and countless smaller entities follow through. The crimson clouds dissipate. Illumination wanes in the channels on the stonework dais. The swarms of light specks drift off, back into the woods. Eventually, the ambient din of the forest returns and fills the air.

Mark sighs and chuckles loudly. “Well, that was a bit rough, but it turned out good.”

He motions the rest of the team from the side. “We’re done, don’t worry.”

Sebastian darts over and lands next to Aristespha, and Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia quickly walk over to the gathering. With a proud grin, Sebastian laughs and shakes his head. “Nice save there, bro. Way to step up to the plate... Literally, even.”

Bach blinks his dimming blue eyes. “Yeah...”

Mark yawns, stretches his lower back, and grumbles. “That one arch spirit has ALWAYS been difficult. But, you certainly shut him up. Thanks for coming in and offering up that power. Shut down their usual nitpicking.”

Bach forces his eyes wide briefly. “No... problem...”

Perking her curious brow, Sotalia narrows an intrigued golden eyed gaze at Bach. “I’m surprised you were able to produce that much elder energy and still be standing.”

She grins slyly and tosses back her fiery orange, wavy hair. “You must be getting the hang of all that power.”

Bach remains quiet as his stance gradually teeters and his stare drifts. Aristespha blinks her eyes to a glowing violet, glances over Bach, and signals Dretphi. “Bach.”

Turning his head carefully, Bach’s gaze refocuses upon Aristespha. “Yes?”

When Dretphi gets behind Bach, Aristespha smiles reassuringly and steadies him. “You can stop forcing yourself to stay awake.”

Bach closes his eyes, yawns loudly, and follows Aristespha guidance back into Dretphi awaiting arms. “Oh... good...”

He fights for a more moments of consciousness and sighs as he fades, supported by Dretphi. “...sorry...”

Dretphi smiles warmly, slips her arms in place, and readies to carry Bach. “It is okay.”

With a few maneuvers, she hoists Bach upon on her shoulders. The team regroups towards the path leading back to camp.

Bright beams of outside light sway with the breeze against the heavy canvas flap of the hut. The illumination waves across Bach’s face, and he stirs from slumber. The chorus of rustling from the trees against the wind and crisp cracks of free leaves bouncing along the ground filter into the space. Fluttering his blue eyes open, Bach stares blankly up at the woven vines and roots forming the roof above him. Awareness gradually arises in his mind, and he glances around the confines of the hut. Furrowing his brow, he pat his hand around, feels his boots nearby, and grasps his aetherphone inside one. Focusing his eyes upon the display, he presses a side button and reads the time. “Noon... Wait... What?”

Reaching arms forward, he counterbalances himself and tilts body up from the sleeping bag and blankets. He blinks hard, squints at the bright light slipping around the edges of hut’s front cover, and mumbles. “Shit... I guess it is that late…”

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he twists his mouth uncertainly and stretches his neck. As he idles into his own thoughts, a shadow forms from the other side of the canvas. Claw tips cling to the edge of the hut entry and an emerald green eye peeks inside. With a soft voice, Cideeda inquires. “You awake?”

Bach shudders to full consciousness and scratches back of his head of longer brown, sleep styled hair. “Yeah. For the most part.”

Slowly pulling the flap open, Cideeda leans her head in, flicks her furry ears within her short multi-color hair, and smiles. “You really wore yourself out last night. I didn’t hear anything but snores from you until a few minutes ago.”

A flit of embarrassment fills Bach’s tan face, and he chuckles awkwardly. “Uh, yeah... Sorry. Just put forth a little more than I expected to.”

Sliding the heavy canvas over, Cideeda settles to a seat on the threshold, and her long, medium length furred tail wags into the space. A toothy grin grows on her light brown face with a proud hint, and she narrows a sly gaze at Bach. “Quite the power move with the negotiations. Just walked right up there, whipped out the most valuable thing they could want, and made a deal they wouldn’t dare refuse.”

Bach blinks, shrugs his shoulders, and sighs. “Yeah. Probably could have gotten away with a little less on the amount of elder energy I gave them.”

Searching the top of her mind, Cideeda smirks and idly curls her claw tips into the thatch pads on the floor. “Oh, definitely. But... I think you only really had one chance to make that deal. So, you had to impress them on the initial presentation. Even if it cost extra, that makes a difference in the long run.”

She cracks a humored smile, quirks her brow, and perks her furry ears. “Nice touch in bumping up orb size while everything was watchin, and good move on keeping the sword quiet. Wouldn't want it to steal your thunder.”

With traces of regret, Bach groans and shakes head. “Gods, I don’t know what I was thinking. It was the only thing I could think of to make them take us seriously. I was scared in place.”

Cideeda giggles and rolls her emerald green eyes. “It worked out. Stood strong until after everything else was gone. So, that’s all they got to experience.”

Placing his forehead in his hand, Bach combs down his hair with his fingers and exhales. “I’m just glad someone said something to me. I was bare conscious at that point and about to collapse.”

He blinks in thought, glances to either side, and grimaces inquiringly. “So, has anyone said what we are going to do next? I mean, it’s probably going to take them awhile to find this access point.”

Stretching her back, Cideeda darts her eyes between her thoughts, wags her tail, and flexes her clawed fingers. “Everyone is just taking it easy today. We’ll have to head back soon.”

She furrows her brow, leans closer to Bach, and smirks. “Especially, if we don’t want to have to dig into those survival rations on our way back.”

Bach cringes briefly and shrugs his shoulders into a shudder. “Yeah... I guess we’ve been spoiled by Dretphi’s cooking, but those things are so bland. The protein crackers have the weirdest texture.”

He cocks his head to the side and inquires. “So, what’s everyone else doing?”

Cideeda crosses her arms, leans against the entry arch of the hut, and ponders out loud. “Aristespha is busy asking Mark all kinds of things, with Sebastian nearby. Sotalia really wanted to find some stream to wash off in. So, Dretphi joined her to help her find a place that Mark mentioned.”

Perking her brow, she cracks a smirk. “I decided to be the one to stay here, so someone would be around when you woke up.”

Bach chuckles awkwardly and averts his gaze. “Oh, well, thank you. I appreciate it. It would have been really weird and unnerving walking around here wondering what happened to everyone. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

Cideeda rolls her eyes and snickers with a toothy grin. “I was also checking out the humvee before we traveled again. So, I just wasn’t sitting around.”

He reaches over for his boots and pulls the sleeping bag and blankets off his pants. “Okay, I feel a little better there. Well, might as well get up and enjoy the scenery while I can.”

Glancing outside, Cideeda’s furry ears flick between the different sounds from of forest creatures in the distance and the faint drone of wind through the trees. “It’s really nice this time of year.”

Her attention darts over to a flit of movement that fades into a translucent haze. Bach leans, peers down Cideeda’s line of sight, and asks in a quiet tone. “What are you looking at?”

Cideeda blinks, glances over to Bach, and smirks. “A few of these things have this really high pitched chirping. But, every time I spot one, they just disappear. I haven’t been able to get a good look at one.”

After fitting his footwear, he cocks his head and curiously narrows his blue eyes at Cideeda. “So... Is there anything you need help with? I mean... I don’t have much else to do...”

Hopping up to her feet outside, Cideeda straightens her posture, stretches her upper body, and rests her hands on her hips. “Nah, I already checked the humvee twice. I’ve just been waiting to see when you woke and when everyone else decided show back up.”

Bach stands up, surveys the camp, and shrugs. “Okay. Huh, so... Yeah... I guess just watch nature for a bit.”

Moments of quiet observation pass, and the two wander their attention between the turning leaves in trees, critters in the woods, and flickers of small spirits darting around. An idea widens Cideeda’s emerald green eyes, and an eager grin grows. “Oh, I know something I wanted to ask YOU about.”

Bach gazes down at Cideeda, fights a surge of trepidation, and chuckles awkwardly. “What would that be?”

Cideeda smiles up at Bach and fidgets with bits of excitement. “All the iconography, pathway, or whatever channel magic! After all the stuff I’ve drawn and painted, and what I saw it can do last night... I want to know more.”

She shifts her gaze side to side, tugs at the corner of her mouth, and whispers to Bach. “But, I want to learn it from... YOU. Sotalia gets a little too excited when she shows me anything, and Aristespha get REALLY technical and super detailed.”

Bach blinks blankly. He searches his mind and nods understandingly with a grimace. “Yeah, I get where you are coming from.”

He points over to a log near the fire pit and walks over that direction. “I’m not good enough to draft up anything we saw last night. But, I know enough to make scrolls and other simple things.”

When Bach sits down, Cideeda takes a seat on the log bench next to him. Bach thinks a moment and twists his mouth uncertainly. “Well, I don’t know what would be good starting point, since there’s a lot of stuff. But, let’s go through some of the symbols you’ve drawn and I’ll explain what they do... Sound good?”

Cideeda quickly nods, brushes debris off the packed dirt between her and Bach, and claws out a shape into the ground. “Perfect! Okay, I remember this was in a lot of different places.”

Bach studies the icon in the soil. “That one directs energy flow one way. Once the flow builds up enough, the power that flows through it can’t reverse.”

A spark of recognition lights up Cideeda’s face, and her intrigue gazes at Bach. “Okay... Oh! So, this acts like a diode or a one-way valve?”

As Bach nods in agreement, she draws another icon into the dirt with her claw tips and points to it. “This one I’ve seen in different styles and sizes on big and small channels.”

Bach leans down, recognizes the shape, and smirks. “Yeah, that one regulates flow. There’s a few variants depending if you want to limit the pressure or rate.”

Biting her lower lip, Cideeda’s brow furrows, her tail flicks with her thoughts, and she rests her chin on her hand. “That sounds like a resistor... But... Can these symbols exchange current, um, flow rate for voltage, um, pressure?”

Tilting his head to the side, Bach glances around the front of his mind. “Not really. They just limit. But, there are...”

He picks up a twig, scratches out another symbol, and motions the tip of the stick over. “These.”

The two continue trading out explanations for drawn symbols, discuss bridges between arcane and technology, and debate equivalent analogs.