Episode 37

A faint stream of vapor steams out the top of the half full pot of coffee under the coffee maker. A few torn open packets of creamer and sugar rest near a small stack of foam cups upon a small table. Early morning light beams into the modest hotel room from the sliding glass door to the small balcony. The sun's projection creeps past the regular bed with bags of personal care items and clothes stacked upon it. The radiant glow off the bed sheets illuminates a wide brimmed hat on a nightstand next to a futon bed. The sun eventually reaches the other regular bed, furthest from the glass window. Heccaeh's head rolls away from the light with an unconscious grumble. A curled up dark blue whelp shifts slightly on top of Heccaeh's chest, while a sleeping brown-striped whelp rises up and down upon his stomach in sync with slow breaths of slumber. The persistence of dawn finally overtakes Heccaeh's face. Not even the subconscious perk of a brown furred ear shields his eyes from the overwhelming sun. Following a series mumbles, Heccaeh yawns wide and groggily opens his hazy gaze. He turns his head towards the ceiling and attempts to lift his upper body off the bed. He pauses at the beginning of his rise and surveys the two weights on his body. He rolls his lavender eyes, works his arms out from under the covers, and carefully sneaks his clawed fingers underneath dark blue whelp. Gently he slides the slumbering whelp to one side of the mattress. Exercising similar care, he relocates the brown-striped whelp next to the other. His chaotic, shoulder length tan hair settles as he rises to a seat upon the bed. He slides over to the edge, places his clawed feet on the ground, and stands up. He narrows his eyes towards the glass sliding door and discerns two figures on the balcony. He glances overs at the coffee and then longingly eyes the bed. In place of two whelps, two large lumps stir underneath the daylight shielding covers in the warmth of Heccaeh's spot. Heccaeh slowly shakes his head with a smile. "Lazy little shits."

He tugs his ratty, old t-shirt straight, plods over to the small table with coffee and cups, and scratches the backside of his loose gym shorts. His moderate, thin tail limply hangs until the scent of coffee sparks a semblance of life. With precision and coordination uncanny, Heccaeh pours out a cup of coffee with a specific process of applying creamer and sweeteners, and lifts the concoction under his nose. He ambles towards the sliding glass door, breathing deeply of the brew. He finally reaches the door, slides it open, and his vision adjusts to the brightness. Captain Hays glances over his shoulder from staring out past the balcony and laughs. "Well, good morning, sunshine."

Heccaeh cracks opens his wincing eyes and peers out from behind a hand shielding the morning light away. "Morning, Captain."

A sly grin graces the lips of a young woman as she leans against the brick hotel wall. "About time you woke up."

Heccaeh eyes the woman and sighs as he opens his eyes slightly more. "Come on, Chana... I'm still recovering from the late watch schedule."

Chana chuckles to herself, lifts her head of shiny, coppery hair against the wall, closes her eyes, and basks in the dawn warmth. She reopens her copper eyes and gazes over to Heccaeh with a smile. "I know. Still, you need to get to bed sooner."

Heccaeh shrugs his shoulders, turns to face Captain Hayes, and studies the expression of reserved concern. "Is there something wrong, Captain?"

Captain Hays twists his mouth in contemplation and hums in thought. "Don't know. Tell me, what do you hear right now?"

After a few blinks, Heccaeh puzzles at the query, takes a long sip of his coffee, and focuses his ears out to the local soundscape. His ears rotate, pan, and twist around hunting for noises. "Well, a few normal city sounds, but... Nothing else..."

He stops in thought, steps up to the railing of the balcony, closes his eyes, and sweeps his head. As his ears focus out into the distance, an unease bubbles into his expression, and he opens his eyes towards the Captain. "Nothing else at all. I don't hear any of the wildlife sounds we heard yesterday morning."

Chana frowns and bows herself off the wall. "Gods dammit... I was hoping I was just paranoid."

Captain Hays draws in a long breath of air and grumbles. He nods in commiseration and strokes his beard. "And here I was hoping age may have finally taken some of my hearing. No such luck."

He pivots away from the balcony railing and steps towards the sliding glass door. He pauses before crossing the threshold into the hotel room. "Both of you pack up for a perimeter sweep today, please. I get the feeling we shouldn't wander too far away from the town. And, get the little ones ready to do some aerial recon."

Captain Hays briefly snarls his upper lip and grumbles to himself as he walks through the hotel room, his sights upon the coffee pot. "Gods willing, may we find nothing..."

Chad proudly leads Tassilda, Trakenthin, Deedri, and Modoran, with Veevi at this side. Veevi grins, oozing bravado as she keeps a hand on her holstered laser pistol and another hand on her hip. The rest of the group observes the surrounding walls on either side the branch off the derelict building's main hall. An unease looms over Tassilda, Trakenthin, Deedri, and Modoran. A few members of the camera crew keep their distance at ideal angles to capture the progression down the dark passage. Chad directs his voice over his shoulder with a bright white smile. "Do not fret. This should be the last stop for this mission. From what the report said, it was another infestation of slimes that was recently discovered. So, it shouldn't be any worse than what we have faced so far."

Veevi excitedly chimes as her fingers drum on the chassis of the laser pistol. "More target practice from the sounds of it!"

Tassilda rolls her light blue on black eyes and groans disdainfully, glaring at the back of Veevi's pink haired head. "Oh, so that's what you call blindly firing at anything that moves and running around scared when anything gets near you."

A snide sneer arches Veevi's upper lip and she angles her head back to narrow a stare at Tassilda. "Oh, on that same thought, what do YOU call it when you panic cast spells at point blank range and shriek like a cheerleader when you get spattered with goo?"

Both Veevi and Tassilda two lock eyes and silently engage in a staring contest fueled by mutual contempt. Deedri shifts her gaze away from the competition, draws in a long breath, and sighs long, letting her shoulders slack. "I just hope it's a small group we can keep our distance from. I don't have anymore clean changes of outfits with me."

She lifts a hand up, to adjust the small bell around her neck, and notices the silence as it moves. A exhale of relief escapes her lips as she hides the slime residue on the exterior of the bell with a quick wipe of the fingers. Trakenthin spots a patch of congealed muck on his armor plating, grunts out some irritation, and reaches into his pack. He pulls out a spray bottle, holds it in front of his vision, reads the label, and pulls the lever trigger to spritz down the muck. Modoran shrugs his shoulders as he casually strolls along at the back of the group and glances back behind. "Well, at least they aren't the corrosive variety."

Trakenthin nods in agreement, pulls out a roll of paper towels from his backpack, and carefully wipes the loosened ooze off his armor. "Indeed. Would need days to repair armor from exposure."

Chad slows to a stop, lifts a hand up to a halt gesture, signals the rest of the group behind, and squints his eyes at the golden barrier in front of him. "This type of barrier looks familiar. I can't recall how."

Tassilda and Deedri peer around Chad and Veevi, and then exchange glances towards each other. Both mirror a silent agreement and acknowledge their shared suspicion. Veevi boldly steps up to the barrier with a sway of her tail, taps a finger solidly onto the transparent golden surface, and pivots around to Chad. "Well? So how do we get it open?"

Drawing an aetherphone out of his pants pocket, Chad taps the screen, scrolls through paragraphs of text, and settles upon the last entry in the notes section. "Well, if you want to do the honors, there should be a disc in the middle that you turn clockwise three times."

Veevi spins back around into a dramatic pose, puzzling at the barrier. She hovers a finger near the magical wall, grips onto a raised disc, and spins the disc quickly. After three revolutions, the disc disappears and the seal disperses into the air as a magical miasma that fades moments later. Veevi eyes widen with a manic tinge. She pulls her laser pistol at the ready and grins with the flit of the brow to Chad. "Ready?"

Chad dons his trademark brilliant grin and strides forward. Veevi edges out in front of Chad and leads the gathering of people out of the passage onto a walkway overlooking an arena. Veevi's eager expression shatters upon her senses witnessing the scene before her. The slime molds ooze with impunity around the entirety of the area and express a superiority over the small domain. Chad struggles to maintain a bold, willing expression. Eventually, he settles for a false smirk to hide his reluctance from the plastic wrap armored camera crew as they spread out for ideal recording angles. Tassilda covers her mouth in shock as the light blue in her eyes shrinks to the horrific scene. Deedri grits her sharp teeth and reflexively winces an eye in a constant twitch. Trakenthin lowers his eyes lids to a completely unamused glare at Chad. Modoran keeps his lips tight and squelches a laugh into an awkward snort. After a the stun wears off, he manages to mouth out. "Well, fuck us..."

From the ceiling, a pastel colored blob free falls to a wet squishing flop onto the walkway in front of Veevi. A laser pistol muzzle lowers down at the small slime mold. It remains still for a minute. Veevi quirks her brow and puzzles at the motionless mass before her. "Huh? I guess the fall killed it?"

The blob contracts itself suddenly and ejects a stringy stream of viscous gel at Veevi. The jet of mucus splats squarely between her eyes, drifts down into her mouth, and trails a gelatinous flow onto her chest, flowing down her shirt. Veevi blinks aghast and slowly turns around to the group with her arms rising in sheer disgust. "Buh... Ungh... Wha..."

From out of the group's silent expressions, a malicious light ignites Tassilda's eyes. A devious grin menaces towards Veevi and Tassilda assumes a superior pose. She presents a mocking, waving gesture of hand with a derisive tone. "And I thought YOU... Of all people... would be used to something like THAT."

As a rage boils up inside, Veevi spits out a wad of muck on the floor in front of Tassilda, and draws back her lips to reveal gritting teeth. Tassilda cackles out into the echoing arena and narrows her eyes at Veevi. "Well! That conveniently answers my other question. Right, Chad?"

Chad flashes a sneer to Tassilda. Veevi growls loudly and points angrily at Tassilda. Trakenthin, Modoran, and Deedri all attempt to maintain calm, neutral expressions, under the building pressure of ill-humor.

Cideeda pans a flashlight underneath a simple, dusty wood framed couch and shifts her focus from the floor to the underside. She sighs, slides back out from under the furniture, and springs up, brushing the futz off her body suit. "Well, he didn't hide anything under the couch."

Dretphi stands up on the toes of her boots and peers over layers of undisturbed powdery haze on the office shelving and sneers disgustedly with a twist her lips. "Nothing found here."

Sotalia stands in the middle of the main area of the small office outbuilding with her arms crossed and grumbles to herself, wearing a frustrated frown. "Figures the one place I picked would be a bust."

As her fingers ruffle through a pile of blank paper, Aristespha glances over to Sotalia and smiles out some reassurance. "Oh, it's not a waste. Noxian probably was here at some point recently. And the fact it's archaeological site office is very interesting, given what we've learned."

Sebastian's ghostly form phases down from the ceiling and floats to stand on the floor. He shrugs his shoulders and holds his arms out to the side. "Well, nothing up in the attic of the place. One less squirrel given how quickly it ran out the hole in the roof vent."

Heavy armored boots step slowly across the room toward the large front window. Dretphi peers out into the dirt lot, focuses her attention upon the faint, water washed tire ruts in the soil, and releases a long sigh. "May have been recent tracks. Can not tell. Weathered away."

A muffled flush sounds out from behind a door with a restroom sign. The bathroom door opens and Bach steps out pondering a thought. "Checked the toilet tank and the plumbing works perfectly fine. So, I doubt anything was hidden in there."

He contorts his mouth, searches his mind for possibilities, and scratches the back of his head. "Didn't the police and government investigators pick this place apart?"

Sotalia uncrosses her arms, places her hands on her hips, and dismissively rolls her eyes with a sigh. "Yes. Yes, they did. But, you never quite know if they got everything. Your average law enforcement is looking for evidence of normal crimes."

She draws a long breath, gently exhales out her frustration, and manages a smirk. "To be fair, they're not expected to deal with someone like Noxian."

Twisting her lips, she pans a gaze across the office and grumbles to herself. "I totally thought he'd at least stop by here on his way from Anta."

Dretphi pivots in place and quirks a brow at Sotalia. "He may have. Lack of evidence is not lack possibility."

An idea rises in her mind as she narrows her eyes to the abandoned archaeological site, the aging fence encircling the area, and the rusty lock on the entry gate. She turns her head slowly towards the rest of the group and lifts an eyebrow with curiosity twisting her lips. "Did any report mention exploration of the site?"

Thoughtful silence floods the room as everyone exchanges looks and realizations dawn upon each member. Aristespha steps over towards the large main office window, cocks her head to the side, and blinks as her mind flips through memories of documents past. "Actually... No."

She crosses her arms, lifts a hand up under her chin, and drops her head on top. Sebastian hovers over to Aristespha's side and blinks as a smirk cracks out from the corner of his mouth. "I remember there was a lot about what they found in here... But, not a damn thing about the checking the IN the site."

Bach dons a quizzical expression as he ambles up to the front door and peeks through the smaller inset window. "Well, given the latest discoveries, I get the distinct feeling that ancient sites are not just a coincidence."

A smug grin graces Sotalia's lips as she strolls up to the door, guides Bach off to the side out of the way, and turns the doorknob. "So... Anyone against a little off the records exploration?"

Cideeda reaches her clawed fingers into a vest pouch, lifts out a soft, thick fabric case, and presents a toothy grin to the rest of the group. "As long as the lock goes back the way we found it, was it ever really disturbed?"

Dretphi eyes Cideeda and mumbles faintly sardonic. "Yes."

Excitement infiltrates Cideeda's gait as she nearly skips out the opened door. She unfolds the carrier to gleefully examine an array of lockpicks within. "Details. As long as I get to use my nice set of picks!"

An awkward quiet looms in the cab of the black sports utility vehicle as it rolls along the city streets. Chad keeps his eyes forward with a persistent unamused expression as he steers through the traffic. His fingers comb through his slicked hair. He shakes his hand afterwards, disgust lingering in his face. Behind him, Tassilda attempts to towel a mass of congealed slime out of her raven black hair and grimaces as she strains the parts of the glob out. After a few more tries, she flops the heavy towel on her lap and stares out the window, sunlight shines of the glistening layer soaking her form fitting clothing. Sitting on the back bench seat, Trakenthin inspects an empty spray bottle of cleaner. He examines the dried splatter on his armor plates, releases a long, annoyed sigh, and drops the bottle on the floor of the cab with sharp resignation. Modoran nonchalantly relaxes on on the other side of the back seat, glances over behind to the cargo space, eyes his slime coated short swords, and shrugs his shoulders. He casually settles back with his mostly try jacket. In the seat ahead, Deedri momentarily loosens her strategically crossed arms, inspects the state of her outfit, and frowns in stale embarassment. She hooks her claw tips into the fabric and attempts to pull the damp, clingy cloth off her figure to her dismay. Peering over the shoulder of the front passenger seat, Veevi eagerly gazes at Deedri with a hungry smirk and seductive flit of the brow. Deedri subconsciously senses the pair of eyes upon her and cinches her arms back over her chest to conceal the outline revealing section of her garment. She flashes an stern glare back. Veevi darkly giggles, turns herself forward in the seat, and arches her back in a stretch as she slides her hands down her ooze soaked shirt. "Oh, live a little! Flaunt it if you got it..."

After a few seconds stopped at the green light, Chad snaps his awareness back to the task of driving the vehicle and accelerates forward. "Well, it's a mission accomplished... Despite the... Difficulties."

Tassilda rolls her eyes dismissively and groans out her irritation. "Difficulties?!"

Chad narrows his eyes down the road ahead and shakes his head in frustration. "We're almost back the hotel and proper showers."

Discomfort radiates from Deedri as she secures the wrap of arms and shrinks into the seat back. "Good. Park down stairs, run to the elevators, and go straight to the hotel room. That's the plan right?"

Chad only offers an forboding silence in response. Tassilda arches an accusatory eye brow at Chad, through the rear view mirror. "Well? What's the plan, O' Great Leader?"

A forced smile pushes itself upon Chad's face and he musters a bit of bravado in his tone. "We are to pull up to the hotel drop off and walk in through the front doors. The line for the fan meet up is queued up there."

Tassilda drills an ireful scowl through the headrest in front of her to the back of Chad's head. Trakenthin draws a long breath and exhales another fit of resignation, shaking his head. Modoran relaxes with a yawn. A mischievous smile graces Veevi's lips. Deedri glances at the status of her slime soaked wardrobe and visibly pales. Tassilda glances over with concern, picks up the small towel, and offers it to Deedri. "It's not much I'm afraid."

Deedri sighs, nods appreciatively, and carefully grasps onto the offering. "T-Thank you..."

In the back seat, Modoran perks up at hearing the wavering tone of Deedri's voice, eyes either side of his mind in thought, and brushes a hand on his mostly dry, armored jacket. Deedri sizes up the towel reluctantly when a zipping noise from behind spins her ears behind. She blinks a few times in confusion and surprises when Modoran's arm reaches over from the back of her seat. His hand holds an armored jacket, and Modoran offers with a soft tone. "Here."

Deedri hesitates for a moment, but graciously accepts the garment. She drapes the article over herself and turns her head back to face Modoran. "Thank you so much..."

Her sentence trails off, her eyes widen, and a flush of pink fills her cheeks. Modoran nonchalantly settles into the seat shirtless, and grants a small wave as he looks out the side window with a genuine smile. "Not a problem."

With simple nod and a muted smile, Deedri faces forward, glances down at the jacket, and starts to put it on. Tassilda sneaks a tap of the elbow to Deedri's side and presents a sly smirk. Deedri tries to hide her amusement, subtly biting her lip, and latches the zipper tracks of the jacket together. From the front passenger's seat, a pair of pink eyes narrow.

Chana sits on the hood of an old, weathered jeep with her legs crossed, hands together, and her eyes closed. She calmly breathes slowly and occasionally tilts her head with a curious twinge in her face. "I can't quite put my finger on it, but something distant feels... odd."

Standing a few meters away on the ground, Captain Hays lifts up a pair of binoculars and searches the green canopy of treetops from the vantage point of the winding hillside road edge. Heccaeh stands an equal distance from the jeep opposite of Hays. He hoods his eyes with a hand and squints out into the distance. "Strange. Looks like Ralli and Orrento are flying back this way. But... It's way too early."

A puzzled brow lifts on Chana's face and she opens her eyes towards Heccaeh. "They're moving really fast! Much faster than I normally sense them flying."

Hays aims his binoculars towards the growing figures of the whelps and tracks their approach as they swiftly close in. His eyes widen from behind the lenses and he shouts out. "Heccaeh! Get ready. They're not slowing down."

Heccaeh blinks and directs his ears forward as a cacophony of squawks and screeches echo out. He braces himself, shifts his weight upon his feet, and holds his arms forward with hands open. "What the-"

The dark blue whelp pitches its wings sharply, fans out to air brake moments before impact, and latches onto Heccaeh's shoulder. The brown-striped whelp swoops tightly around the other side of Heccaeh, claws onto his duster, and scrambles up to the top of his back. The two creatures constantly repeat a series of distinct crude mimics of fvalian words while crawling around chaotically in a sheer panic. Heccaeh dances for balance, tries in vain to secure the whelps, but fails about. "The fuck is up with you two! Calm down!"

Chana slides swiftly off the hood of the jeep, rushes over to Heccaeh, and wraps her arms around the dark blue whelp. Hays tosses the binoculars onto a convenient vehicle seat cushion, speeds over to the other side of Heccaeh, and reaches out for the brown striped whelp. His cybernetic arm clamps down upon the handle of the frightened creature's harness. Chana hoists up the dark blue whelp, manages to free claws from Heccaeh coat, and rocks the critter gently to soothe some of the fear. Hays secures the brown striped whelp long enough for Heccaeh to get a hold. With a loud bellow, Heccaeh yells out sternly in a dialect of fvalian and the two whelps silence immediately. Each of the subdued critters dons an anticipating, spooked gaze to Heccaeh. Hays releases a long exhale and lifts a brow at Heccaeh. "Okay. So, what's going on?"

Heccaeh rolls his shoulders, straightens himself, and collects his composure. After catching his breath, he stares down at the bright, brown eyes of the striped whelp and calmly, but firmly, speaks. "Orrento. What see?"

Orrento blinks for a few moments and very roughly mimics out the same series of fvalian words from before. Heccaeh nods to Orrento and directs his gaze to the dark blue whelp. "Ralli. What see?"

Ralli pulls her head out from hiding underneath Chana's arm and quickly repeats another vague approximation of the same fvalian words, and buries head back. Bewilderment overtakes Heccaeh's expression and he faces Hays trying to comprehend the words. "Well, they saw something. The words are. Black. Fire. Huge. Walking?"

With the last word from Heccaeh's mouth, Hays's expression crashes to a solemn dread and his posture stiffens. He slowly pivots and squints into the distance with a slow wary draw of breath. "Are you sure?"

Chana and Heccaeh focus their attention on Hays. Heccaeh nods and glances between the two terrified whelps. "Yes, Captain. Both said the same thing."

Hays nods firmly and quickly steps over to the jeep, a dutiful determination prominent on his face. "Okay. Load up the little ones, check their harness trackers, and figure out roughly where they encountered... Whatever the hell they saw..."

He retrieves an aetherphone from his jacket pocket and taps out a number. He lifts the phone to his ear and a voice at the other end greets him. "This Captain Hays of the Borderland Rangers. I need an emergency aerial recon in the Hattan area. Who do you have right NOW?"

In a large hotel ballroom, a long line of people splits out into individual sectioned of areas. Between the ropes of the queue stands, loose gatherings of people wait expectantly and gradually approach the end of the sections as space permits. Across a cleared path, opposite a line taped at the mouths of each area, Chad, Veevi, Deedri, Modoran, Tassilda, and Trakenthin sit at individual tables, piles of The Next Adventurers of Nexus swag littering the tabletops. Chad beams a brilliant, proud grin to an overflowing line and poses for the flashes of multiple cameras. His trademark bravado-filled voice cutting through the ambient din. Veevi exaggerates her appreciation to the admiration of the crowds filling her line and rewards their attention with cute, coy acts bordering on suggestive. She signs both The Next Adventurers of Nexus and her musical career promotional material with an elaborately decorative signature. She occasional sings out a chorus line from one of her songs when a fan captures video.

Deedri sits awkwardly behind the table next to Veevi's. A smile fights to contain and obscure her wide eyed, near panic as she politely fields fan after fan for pictures, while the bell around her neck rings with each new pose. She gazes out in a mixture of terror and shock at the number of people in her line. Next in the row, Modoran maintains a suave and debonair attitude, and entertains the many requests of the people arriving at his table. With a far shorter line, he freely grants the extra time to each person. Tassilda exudes a sultry confidence and provocatively styles the presentation of herself with a dark, controlling charm. In between people at her table, she searches the overflow of the queues for Veevi and Deedri, with an exceptional focus on Veevi's, and winks at candidates with an alluring curl of the finger, beckoning them over to her line.

Trakenthin idly scrolls through paragraphs of text on his aetherphone, ignoring the very few people that wander into his queue. Hearing the hem of a young man in front of him, he glances up to pay attention to a stubborn, determined fan, and glares at him. After a minute, Trakenthin slowly rises from his seat, towers over the young man, and leans forward enough to emphasize the sheer difference of stature. Trakenthin focuses a stoic stare downwards. Behind the fan, a group of friends press photo buttons on their phones.

"Holy shit, dude, you got him to stand up and stare you down! I'm posting this picture on the forums!"

The loose gathering of friends depart and empty out the line. Trakenthin maintains the glare at the group and catches the glances when a few look back. He narrows his eyes and concentrates his attention on the group until they exit the ballroom. After a few moments, he gradually lowers himself back down, settles into his seat, and resumes reading the text on his phone. He peacefully drags through a few more pages of text, and tries to tune out the world. A young woman's voice speaks. "Umm... Hey. Sorry to interrupt."

A grimace forms on Trakenthin's face and he begins to summon up a dismissive grunt. He lifts his head up from the phone, guides his eyes upwards, and pauses as his expression blanks. A young, tall woman with piercing hazel eyes smiles hopefully and lifts up a book with a hand to showcase the cover. "This is going to sound really weird, but I saw you reading this book on an episode... And... I started reading it myself."

Sudden confusion forces Trakenthin's eyes into a fit of puzzled blinks. He shifts his focus to the book and his eyes flit open in immediate recognition. The woman subtly squirms out a bit of embarrassment and brushes back her long silvery hair over a shoulder. "Well, I just wanted to thank you. I've enjoyed it immensely."

Trakenthin lifts his head up to gaze at the young, tall woman's tan face and a genuine smile forms on his lips. He nods with delight. "You are welcome. I wait for the next book release."

The woman lights up at the response and bows slightly. As she lifts her hand to wave and starts to step back to leave, Trakenthin interrupts with an eagerly curious tone. "Who do you think will be the chosen?"

Stray hairs sway with the momentum as the young, tall woman halts, redirects her attention at the question, and excitedly answers. "Oh! I don't know. I think it's between Caspan and Mayon. I can't see any way how Jonas would be."

Minutes go by, Trakenthin and the young woman engage in an enthusiastic discussion about the book. She flips open her book to particular pages and points out certain passages. He summons up another set of passages on his aetherphone to counter her proposal. Each maneuvers the debate to press the other to revealing their honest thoughts on the matter. Eventually, a number of people file into the queue leading to Trakenthin. The young, tall woman glances over her shoulder, realizes the growing line, and apologizes overall. "Oh! I'm so sorry. I tend to ramble on."

She gazes out towards the exit and waves at a group of people watching both her and Trakenthin. She return to face Trakenthin with an embarrassed eye roll to herself. "I really shouldn't take up any more of your time. Thank you, I really enjoyed talking to you!"

A panic grips Trakenthin as he watches her balance shift to walk away. "W-wait! I should sign an item for you."

He searches the tabletop and frantically flips through the materials on the table. Despair weighs down a frown on his face as his hunts continues in vain. The woman thrusts a pen and the book opened at the inner cover. Trakenthin glances up a moment, witnesses her smile with a wink, and bashfully takes the pen. He signs his full name, stops, and looks up mildly ashamed. "I apologize. What is your name?"

With a pleasant chime to her voice, the young woman replies. "Shayuri."

Trakenthin nods graciously, finishes a message, and returns the pen. Shayuri steps away with a wave and rushes over to her group of friends. Trakenthin keeps smiling well after she leaves with her group out the exit. He drifts his gaze around the area and notices the large number of stares focusing upon him. Modoran blinks in complete bewilderment, his mind unable to fully process the series of events. Tassilda covers her mouth with both hands together, her light blue on black eyes fully open in sheer amusement. "Oh, my gods... That was precious."

Modoran leans back in his chair and directs his voice around Tassilda, sporting an eager, quizzical grin. "You did write your phone number in her book? Right?"

A harsh sneer arches up Trakenthin's upper lip, his eyes narrow to mean glints, and a frown pulls back the corners of the lips to reveal teeth.

"Hey, could you sign this?"

Trakenthin's glare shifts over to another fan thrusting a promotional group photo towards him and marker hovering close enough for the odor to irritate his nose. He slowly rotates his head at the items before him, and slowly rises from his seat. He levels a soul piercing, stoically cold glare right into the face of the fan and grunts solidly to a trailing growl. The young man cautiously steps back but stalls his progression after a meter. Trakenthin systematically cracks each knuckle, each pop jarring the teenager further and further away. Quickly, the guy rushes away into the back of another line.

From a raised platform in the corner of the room, Gerald smirks with a chuckle to himself as he aims his shoulder camera. Samantha draws a dark grin on across her face and glances up at Gerald. "Oh, please tell me you got that."

Gerald simply smiles as he sights his next shot through the viewfinder. "Every bit of it, of course."

A weathered, worn jeep speeds down the twisting access road. Chana locks her eyes forward on the road ahead, braking down to an ideal speed before the sharp turns, and accelerating through. Heccaeh sways with the forces and checks on the two whelps, Ralli and Orrento, each in a secured carrier crate. Captain Hays's cybernetic arm clamps firmly onto the overhead roll bar and prevents him from sliding with the shifts in acceleration and direction. He keeps his aetherphone close to his ear and calls out with a commanding, official tone. "This is Captain Hays, you are on speakerphone. Who am I speaking to?"

Over the phones loudspeaker a man's voice responds. "Kaleb Hellstrom, sir."

Hays nods to himself and scans the skies above. "I've heard that name before. Are you the dragon rider that's done a few northern borderlands surveys?"

Kaleb sounds out promptly with a sprinkling of pride. "Yes, sir! Just flying back from a weird zone perimeter survey this morning when I got the call from the guild."

The jeep slows to a stop at an intersection connecting the access road to the main highway. Chana searches both directions for traffic before gunning the vehicle down the highway towards the city. Hays warily stares out into the distant hills between the trees and draws a long breath of air. "Good. You should have the coordinates from the guild office. I need you to do a pass over the area from high up... For your own safety."

After the microphone on Kaleb's side of the call rubs against a surface, he speaks clearly but cautiously. "I'm coming up on the coordinates... What am I exactly looking for, sir?"

As the jeep accelerates to highway speeds, Hays presses his elbow against the window switch on his door armrest and triggers the window to roll up. He adjusts his voice towards the to the phone to the lower noise level. "Something big and walking around."

Kaleb's reply crackles from the phone as a strange distortion adds an odd, faint echo into the background. "Okay, sir. I'll see what's there. I should be in the rough area now. Waiting for a fix on my navigational computer from the ground beacons to confirm. Also, I'm having some strange interference-"

He pauses mid sentence, allowing the interference to prominently play out clearer. After a few seconds, Kaleb continues as confusion colors his voice. "I'm seeing signs that something has happened here. Definitely to the southwest of Hattan. Strange... I see a few trees down that look really recently felled..."

A sharp deep shriek funnels into the microphone from the other end of the conversation and intrigue fills Kaleb's tone. "Wait, Lagi senses something... Where is it, Lagi!? Okay... He's flying towards something and it looks like the fallen trees are all points along the same path. Something big is definitely moving and it is big enough to knock down- Oh, wow, actually snap these trees."

Hays narrows his eyes towards the southwest and firmly states a warning. "Keep your altitude high. While, I hope its nothing, I don't want any unnecessary risks. Just need a confirmation."

Kaleb affirms the mutual understanding. "Understood. Okay, whatever it is, it's going in a straight path towards town. There's almost no deviation and..."

A thunderous shriek bellows out and temporarily overloads the microphone to silence. Hays's eyes spring wide open and he yells out to the phone. "Come in?! Kaleb? Are you okay?!"

Moments of distortion, static, movement, and wind blasts out the speaker of the phone. The audio chaos distracts both Chana and Heccaeh. A minute later the noises calm down, and Kaleb's voice graces the call. In between heavy pants, he speaks coherently. "Yes! Yes! I'm okay. Sorry, sir! Lagi and I had to... Uh... Increase our safe distance... But... We have... Something?!"

Hays brings the phone close to his ear and speaks slow, firm. "What does it look like?"

Kaleb puzzles and his mind audibly searches for something to match the description. "Uh, um. A giant man covered in black fire that-"

He halts mid sentence and a horrific realization looms in the tremor of his words. "Sir. Is this... What I think it is?"

A long exhale escapes Hays mouth and he grits his teeth as he draws in a new breath. "Send me the best picture you can."

The jeep speeds past a Hattan city information sign off to the side of the road. Chana maintains the vehicle's direction but her focus drifts to the eerie dead air of the phone. Heccaeh aims an ear at the phone while he tends to the still spooked whelps hiding well within their cages. Captain Hays' phone chirps a notification. He holds the phone out in front him, trains his eyes on the display, and presses his thumb on the new message. As the screen renders a photograph, the whites of his eyes grow, a bit color leaves his face, and his body tenses. He resolutely calls out to Kaleb. "It unfortunately is. I want you to know, you've done your job and can go home far from here."

Hays continues reluctantly but pleads a sincere request to Kaleb. "But, if you can, we're going to need eyes on that thing. I don't want to ask too much but-"

Kaleb interrupts with a long sigh and a nervous chuckle. "Lagi and I will do what we can, sir. It doesn't seem to even be paying any attention to us, so I think we can track it safely for now."

A smirk parts from corner of Hays's mouth and he slowly nods. "Excellent. Ranger Heccaeh will transmit all the official radio frequencies. Switch over to them and keep us updated. I need to make a few calls."

Before the call cuts out, Kaleb confirms. "Understood, sir."

Captain Hays taps through a series of menus, searches through a list of contacts, and directs his voice to Chana and Heccaeh. "Heccaeh, contact Kaleb get the info and see if you can figure out the trajectory and speed of that thing. Chana head straight the city hall and park it in the lobby if you have to."

A progress bar appears on Captain Hays' phone and he waits with a solemn stare out towards the southwest. The bar finishes and the phone remains silent. For minutes only the wind outside competes against the quiet dread filling the cab, until the phone rings. Captain Hays lifts the phone to his ear, attempts a smile, but settles for only half. "Hey, Hackle. Sorry for your heart attack, but we're short on time and Hattan is going to need anything it can get as soon as possible. Worst part is that it doesn't even know it needs it, yet."

After a few nods he responds to voice of Captain Hackle coming through the regular earpiece speaker. "Thank you. If you can let them know we are on our way, that will save us time. We'll do what we can do from there. Also, we've got a guild contractor in the air keeping an eye on it... Well, I'll let you get to it."

Hays takes the phone off his ear, presses the end call button on screen, and sinks back into his seat with a long sigh. Heccaeh blinks in thought, leans up into the space between the front driver's and passenger's, and uncertainly ponders. "Uh, Captain. What's the plan and how are we going to do it?"

With a long draw of breath, Hays wells with determination and tilts his head to each shoulder with solid cracks of the neck. "We somehow evacuate one of the larger towns in the area enough to get as many people clear in what little time we may have. And, hope there's a town left to return to."

A solemn frown weighs down his cadence and Captain Hays searches in utter vain for an advice to share. "As for how? That's a good fucking question. The last time any major city in this part of the world tried to evacuate out of the path of a Nightmare Geist was Dothan. And may the gods have mercy on us all if that's what we are comparing to."