Episode 40

Small, blue orbs glow and cast circles of light upon the inscribed surfaces of the walls. Spread out roughly even, each ball of illumination reveals more of the intricate details of area to Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia. Dretphi adjusts a few bright electric torch lamps on tripods and aims the beam where Cideeda points a claw. Cideeda gives a quick thumbs up and kneels down next to a removed access panel in a familiar console. "Thank you. I think there might actually be a proper computer inside here. So, maybe there's data to dump."

Sebastian pivots his ethereal form in the middle of the room and nods to Cideeda. "That would be nice. Any signs that anyone else has been in there before you?"

Cideeda cranes her head to peer her emerald eyes inside the kiosk's maintenance cavity and shakes her head with an eager grin. "All the dust build up looks even and no marks that I didn't put there. So, it should be original parts."

A flicker of bright light reflects off the walls and tints the rest of the room. Aristespha side steps over carefully, and holds a tablet with both hands up to the various inscriptions upon the wall. She lines up a shot of the inscribed surface on the screen, taps the button icon, and momentarily squints as the flash pulses. She slides the tablet over methodically, repeats the previous process, and lowers the device with a sigh. "This is going take some time to work through."

Sotalia steps over next to Aristespha and presents another tablet to her. "I think I got enough pictures of the platform to stitch together a big complete one. But, the battery is almost dead on this one."

Aristespha glances down, examines the image on the screen, and notices the status bar for the battery blinking red, with an acknowledging smirk. Sotalia eyes over her shoulder, motions towards an old, dusty energy storage vessel, cracks a mischievous grin. "So... Do you think anyone is going to miss one... or two... of those?"

With a slow lift of a contemplative brow, Aristespha leans over to view the collection of stray and stacked magical cells and works out the indecision, twisting her lips. "I doubt it. But... I really do not want to tempt fate too much. And, I do not want to test the good graces we have gotten with ruin raiding."

She debates in her mind as her violet eyes search for a reasonable justification. After a few seconds, a wicked smile graces her lips and she glances over to Sotalia. "Well, I suppose the stray ones with recent hand marks, possibly from Noxian, could be considered evidence worth taking in for... Extended investigation."

Sotalia returns a similar expression, turns slowly around, and tosses a stray lock of dark red hair over a horn with satisfaction. "I would have to agree. Certainly, such direct evidence is part of our ongoing mission."

Bach flicks a few more glowing blue orbs off to float along a path to spots on a far wall. He pauses, gauges the overall brightness, and crosses his arms. Sebastian drifts down next to him, crosses his arms, and shrugs. "So another thirty minutes before you have to touch them up again, bro?"

Bach sways his head slightly shoulder to shoulder, and pulls at the corner of his mouth. "A little longer than that. Tried to put a little extra in these orbs. Maybe it'll free me to do something more useful than lighting."

Sebastian smirks, chuckles to himself, and gazes over to Bach. "Shit. It's Saturday. A Saturday after a hell of a week, bro. So, don't worry about it. Take it easy while you can. We'll be back to the complicated stuff soon enough."

A begrudging groan escapes Bach. He shrugs his shoulders and relaxes his arms down to his sides. "Yeah."

The two brothers stand in silence at the array of blue lights dotting the old chamber. Each drifts a gaze across the area and observes the work of the others. Dretphi prepares a clear plastic, white paper backed sheet from roll and lays it next to a faint footprint in the thick dust. She cuts it to size, and carefully pulls the paper off the adhesive side of the plastic. With deft precision, she gently floats the plastic on to the dusty, flat surface. Allowing the sheet to rest evenly, she pats the plastic down securely with modest pressure and waits a minute. With even tension, she lifts the entire sheet back up, glides in the air over to the side, and rests it securely back down upon its original paper backing. Dretphi smiles as a sense of pride fills her and breathes out her relief, guiding back her platinum braids to clear her view of the footprint captured in dust between the sheets.

Cideeda's eyes telegraph her confusion and thoughts, as her arm feels around inside the console. Reaching through the access panel, she twists and contorts herself to find the best angle after many awkward attempts to budge something inside. As the frustration infiltrates her face, she halts, stretches her arm slightly deeper inside, and ponders. A muffled, mechanical pop emits from inside the console, and a triumphant grin splits Cideeda's lips. She carefully removes her dust covered arms out of the space, guides a metal vented box with a tether of electronic cables onto the floor, and eagerly inspects it further.

Sebastian pivots around, and watches Aristespha and Sotalia sort through pictures upon the two tablets. His ghostly gaze notices Aristespha occasionally rubbing her stomach unconsciously while the rest of her focus pours upon the images on the tablets. He glances over to Bach and points to his pocket. "What time is it, bro?"

Bach digs a hand into pants pocket, pulls out his aetherphone, and clicks a side button to activate the screen. "Umm, about noon?"

Sebastian nods, turns to the rest of the group, and ethereally hems for their attention. "Okay, it's noon. As party leader, I think it's a good time for a lunch break."

He glances over to Bach and tilts his head towards the exit. "Hey, bro, could you go out and get the cooler from the humvee? Probably best we eat in here and keep our profile low right now."

Acknowledging with a thumbs up, Bach walks towards the exit with a playfully sarcastic roll of the eyes. "Yeah, a big picnic, midday, in the middle of the restricted area for a dig site... Probably not the best plan."

Cideeda glances down at her grit and grime covered fingers and cringes briefly. "Could you bring me cleaning wipes, too?"

Sotalia notices Bach moving towards the exist and wanders over that direction, glancing over to Cideeda briefly. "I'll go get them. I need to hook this tablet up to the charger anyway."

Bach squints his blue eyes and lifts his hand up towards the noon sun as he passes threshold of the entryway of the chamber. He lets his eyes adjust to the daylight and scans around the area. After a few seconds of blinks and watching the peaceful, quiet ruins, he steps out onto the gravel walkway towards the covertly parked humvee. He hears a second set of foot falls into the dirt and glances over the shoulder towards Sotalia. "Oh, hey."

Sotalia moves to keep pace next to Bach, and tucks the tablet under her shoulder. Seconds later, she trains her golden eyes at him and lifts an inquisitive dark red eye brow. "So... How are you doing? All things considered, of course."

Bach awkwardly scratches the back of his head and manages a weak shrug that poorly attempts a nonchalant pose. "Well... Um... Okay. Apart from certain developments, ah..."

A genuine smile shapes Sotalia's mouth and she apologetically sighs with hints of compassion. "Listen, I'm sorry for being a bitch the last few days. Old habits die hard no matter what I try. But, you don't need any grief from me."

With a long exhale, tension vents out of Bach's lungs and he relaxes his shoulders. "It's okay. Quite the major secret to reveal in the most dramatic fucking way possible."

Sotalia laughs with a growing smirk at Bach. "Certainly not how you wanted to tell everyone, I'm sure."

Bach bites lip and momentarily averts his gaze from Sotalia as the two walk closer to the humvee. "Yes. Since, truth be told, I was really hoping to never need to tell anyone. But, that plan didn't survive contact with reality."

Sotalia meets Bach's returning glance with a gentle smile and roll her eyes at herself. "Well... Truth be told, they rarely ever do. From personal experience."

Bach and Sotalia walk down the rough rock encrusted dirt path and approach the humvee. A curious grin parts Sotalai's lips and she slyly narrows her golden eyes at Bach. "So, after telling us such a big secret, maybe you'd be transparent with a little, trivial piece of information."

As Bach moves towards the back passenger door of the humvee and pulls open the door, he squints a wary glance back at Sotalia, perking his brow. "Like what?"

Sotalia swings the front passenger door out, places the tablet from under her arm on the front seat, and attaches a charging cable to it. She brightens her tone and coyly gazes over to Bach with a devious smile. "Oh, a certain important number... One you should have learned when you entered adventuring school... From a certain test."

Bach pauses to blink just as his hand grabs hold of a handle for the cooler in the middle aisle. "Uhh..."

Sotalia twists her mouth, directs a prying glare, and awaits a response with her hands firmly on her hips. Bach draws a long breath in and acquiesces with a sigh. "Well, I don't know the exact number. Because, the system was glitching out from my stupid antics in the test chamber. But... It was around the mid nine thousands."

A contented, eager grin creeps onto Sotalia's face and she reaches over the front seat to grab tub of cleaning wipes. "Interesting. Now, was that so hard to admit?"

While shaking his head, Bach slides the insulated container across the floor in front of his seat and secures his grip around the other handle. "No. I'm just fearful of what such knowledge may or may not encourage in the future."

Sotalia hums to herself in thought as she closes the front passenger door. When Bach clears the path with the cooler, she closes the other door and stands in front of Bach. "Okay. Just to be fair, ask me a question about myself."

Bach ponders the proposition and examines the expression on Sotalia's face. His eyes search in his mind and scrutinize a number of possible candidates, then focus upon Sotalia. When Bach's stare drifts up to towards the top of Sotalia's head, a crack forms in her aura of confidence and she quells a reflexive grimace. A playfully sinister grins flashes upon Bach face and narrows his eyes upon her. "Are your horns naturally that dark?"

Sotalia's mouth hangs open as a response fails to launch. Amusement, relief, and embarrassment swirl together on her face and she shrugs off the hesitation with a smirk. "Well. No. I use a tint to darken them down. They're naturally much lighter. And, the tint helps keep the color even."

Bach nods, hoists up the cooler higher, and walks back towards the entryway to the chamber across the ruins. "I was curious. I remember Shadeesa always kept a whole collection of horn care products."

Sotalia steps along the gravel path back next to Bach and rolls her eyes. "Oh! You have no idea. As much as I love my horns, there's some days I totally understand why some people cut them short and keep them filed down. It's SO frustrating when you find a nick or gouge."

With chuckle in his tone, Bach glances over. "Kind of like when you find a bruise you don't remember getting?"

Sotalia exaggerates a nod and laughs with a smile. "Yes! Except the bruise will go away eventually. With horns, you better hope you can buff it out with some clear polish or know someone who's REALLY good with filler putty."

Bach entertains his curiosity. "Ever do the horn carving thing?"

A sigh rushes out of Sotalia and she shakes her head. "No. I lived in a town with hard water. No design looks pretty with hard water stains."

The two continue along the gravel route discussing the intricacies of emin horn and nail care, soon disappearing into the entryway to deliver food and cleaning supply.

The late morning sun shines through the windows in the small bedroom of the ranch style house. Through the open door to the hallway, heavy, cumbersome footsteps echo into the room. Seconds later, Bach crosses through the doorway into the bedroom, flips the switch next to the door, plods over to the bed, and swings his draw-string duffel bag off his shoulder onto his bed with a bounce. He pivots toward the doorway and directs his voice down the hallway. "Hey, is there anything else I need to help haul in?"

Dretphi responds back down the corridor. "Not at the moment."

Slowly Bach glances back over his shoulder, side steps over to align himself to a clear part of the bed, and tips backwards. He flops onto comforter and sends a shockwave of air through the sheets. He gradually works the rest of his body up on top and loosely sprawls himself over the surface, sloppily propping his feet on the duffel bag. He quickly works off his low cut shoes, exhales a long sigh, and stares blankly up at the overhead ceiling fan. As the blades spin up to speed, Bach eyes perceive but his brain idles. As the present thoughts subdue, past events rise out of the haze memory and drift through. Focus shifts from moment to moment. Bach's expression remains blank towards the breeze of the overhead fan and warmth of the sun as beams sluggishly travel across the room. Sounds of the motor hum, the conversations elsewhere in house, the series of light footsteps barely audible from the hallway, and the rest of world fade as all of Bach's attention turns inwards, ignoring the background stimuli of the current place he resides in. His mind disconnects from the outside and wanders within a haze of the past.

A series of claw tipped raps upon the door sound off into the room. Bach closes his eyes hard and opens them to refocus upon the surrounding world. He lifts his upper body up off the top of the mattress and spots Cideeda waving at him from the doorway. She crosses her arms into a lean upon the door frame and smirks. An unconscious unease leaks into Bach's smile and he waves back. "Hey. How are you doing?"

Cideeda pulls a smile across her lips, perks her furry ears, and cocks head to the side. "Good... How are YOU doing?"

Bach musters a smirk and nods slowly. "Well, all things considered. I'm doing okay."

Cideeda narrows her stare slightly, furrow her brow, and parts her lips to a grin. "That's good to hear. By the way, what time is it? I don't have my phone handy."

After retrieving his aetherphone from his pants pocket, Bach clicks the side button to trigger the display on. With an initially nonchalant tone, Bach paraphrases the information off the screen. "Well, it's Sunday late morn- Uh... Huh. Um, afternoon...?"

As Bach processes the unexpected chronological difference, he shifts himself to a seat on the side of the bed. His attention darts between his phone and the daylight coming in through the window, before he returns an awkward, confused glance towards Cideeda. "Well. A bit later than I thought."

Cideeda calmly steps up next to the bed, places her hands on her hips, and focuses a gaze upon Bach. "You spaced out for an hour. I looked in an hour ago and saw you staring at the ceiling. So, I thought I'd give you a few minutes to decompress from the ride back. But, there's more going on, isn't there?"

Bach averts his eyes downwards, grimaces, and slowly nods as his voice wavers. "Yeah. Just thinking about everything..."

He looks up to see emerald eyes staring right back at him. Cideeda sighs, shaking her head. "Bach. Let's review that whole situation."

Bach blinks and nods through the puzzlement. "Um. Sure."

Cideeda smirks and rolls her eyes at herself. "If there had been time to present the options, I would have chosen the blow it the fuck away option. Especially, for THAT thing."

She chuckles, bites her lip, and works out a bit of past embarrassment in her posture with a flick of her long tail. "I mean, I DID fling a satchel of explosives at a security bot armed with a minigun and plasma particle cannon, recently."

A brief flicker of a smile tries to emerge on Bach's face. Cideeda sighs out her nerves and crosses her arms tightly as the past circumstance replays in her mind. "And... We weren't going to outrun that horrible thing. You figured that out, and made the choice that you thought gave us the best chances for survival. Despite the risks, I agree it was the best choice. One I would have made myself."

A bit of relief releases the unease building within Bach's body. He feels Cideeda rest a hand upon his shoulders and she flexes a brief, familiar five claw tip grip. Cideeda waits until Bach looks back up, and smiles with slight watery glint at the corners of her eyes. "And somehow... I've gotten another chance at something I didn't think I would ever get. So, I think you did just fine."

Bach nods slowly, draws a long breath in, and thinks in silence. He finally exhales with an uncertain cadence. "Thank you. Really. It's just... I'm really happy with the results. But, I'm not sure how to feel about how I got the results?"

Cideeda lifts her hand from Bach's shoulder, holds her chin in thought, and grins toothily. "I think I get what you are talking about. It's about using that elder energy?"

With long groan, Bach quickly acknowledges with a grumble. "Yes."

Resting her hands behind her on the top lip of the dresser drawers, Cideeda shrugs her shoulders and sways her head side to side pondering the predicament. "Being an outside observer to magic for a LONG time, I just can't help but to see it as just a tool. For example, I've got lockpicks. I could break into houses like a thief, or I unlock doors for owners without their keys like a locksmith."

She leans forward to stand up straight, gestures with both hands weighing balance in the palms and shifts her attention between them "I've got a gun. I could hunt food with it, or I could mug someone with it. I've got a car. I could drive it responsibly for good reasons, or I could drive it like a maniac for all the worst reasons."

Bach blinks and stares into his thoughts to an eventual understanding. "Yeah. I can see that. It's just a bit more gray area than I've put to it before? It was easier when it was just a simple light or dark side thing."

Cideeda laughs with an honest smile, and waves off the subject with amusement. "Oh gods. Remind me to tell you some Fvalian fables my parents would tell me. Every last one of them just rolls around in moral gray area."

She gazes down at Bach and smirks happily. "Anyway. From what I've seen, magic is just a tool I've seen used for both good and bad things. So far-"

Cideeda winks a Bach and grins. "You've been doing good. For good reasons."

Bach sheepishly scratches the back of his head and dons an awkward smile. "Well... I try."

Sotalia echoes down the hallway through the small bedroom doorway. "Cideeda?! Where are you? I got that magic's shop's aethersite up and want to show you want they've got in stock."

Cideeda grits her teeth briefly, crosses her arms, and flicks her ears back to Bach. "By the way, could you do me a huge favor?"

After a nod from Bach, Cideeda bends down close and whispers to him. "Tomorrow, could you please come with us for magic shopping? She's really excited about teaching me magic and I DO NOT know anything about it all to stop her from buying everything I don't need."

Bach turns his head towards the doorway momentarily to hear Sotalia audibly admiring the inventory of the store, and returns his understanding gaze to Cideeda. "Yeah, that'd probably be a good idea. I need to actually get a few things myself, so I'll have a good excuse to join you two."

Cideeda relaxes her shoulders, loosens her arms, and walks towards the bedroom door. "So, mind helping me with a few data cables for that dusty mess of computer?"

Tipping forward, Bach rights himself on his feet, stand up, and follow behind Cideeda. "Sounds good."

The television in the finely decorated two bed hotel room shows the latest local new developments and pictures of the aftermath of the "Hattan Nightmare". The bathroom door opens up with a billowing cloud of faint steam and Tassilda steps out wrapped in an elegant bathrobe. She guides her damp black hair back over her gray shoulders and carefully towels off swirling horns as she walks over to her bed. She focuses her light blue on black eyes towards Deedri, on the other bed, with a perplexed expression. "Whatever are you doing?"

Deedri pauses from sorting through a stack of papers, finishes writing a few notes in a journal, and rubs her auburn eyes. "Oh. Just logging the medical work I did in during the attack and formatting it to send to the guild."

Tassilda gracefully slides on top of her bed, settles up against the pillow stacked headboard, and studies the collection of documents organized upon Deedri's bed top. "I am honestly curious, what do you need to send to the guild?"

Deedri uncrosses and stretches her legs out from underneath her. She lowers her upper body down and rests her head on a fluffy hotel pillow with a long sigh. "It's for my public work hours. I try to keep up with my quota so it doesn't build up too much."

Her tufted ears flick and she glances over to the confusion upon Tassilda's face. She blinks a few times, recognizes the lack of context, and smiles with an apologetic tone. "Oh. Um. It's a medical mage requirement to keep our licenses when we are part of adventuring groups."

Tassilda quirks a brow, leans over down to the floor next to the bed, and reaches a hand in a large zipper bag. "They certainly seem to keep medical mages on a short leash."

She rises back up with a small mirror and a clear bottle with a dark, translucent liquid inside. Deedri shrugs and rests her hands on her night-shirt covered stomach. "It's not so bad. And, it's for a good purpose. The guild has an agreement with most of the medical systems of all the different states in the area. They make sure the adventuring groups don't hire out the medical mages without keeping up with their license requirements to practice for the public good."

With a quick twist of the cap, Tassilda sets the bottle upon the middle nightstand between beds and examines her horns through the small mirror. "Ah, I see. Prevent all the talent from getting stolen away for the higher paying adventuring life, never to be seen again."

Deedri frowns and begrudgingly agrees with a slow nod. "Well... Yes. But the guild not only handles a lot of the paperwork, they also will find work that counts for your quota. So, if you've let your quota get too big, they can help out."

Tassilda squints her light blue on black eyes through the mirror and adjusts the angle. She reaches over with her free hand, lifts the cap of the bottle to reveal an integrated brush, and guides the liquid soaked cap brush to a discolored spot on the side of her horn. With a few careful taps of the hairs of the brush, the dark fluid settles and blends out the discoloration. Tassilda replaces the cap on the bottle and lifts a curious brow to Deedri. "What happens to a medical mage that does NOT keep up with their quota?"

Deedri's eyes widen and she slowly lifts her upper body off the bed. She grits her teeth underneath a twisting mouth and dons a wary expression at Tassilda. "Nothing good. Usually a guild warning is enough to get them to take a break and work on their hours. But, it escalates from there."

As she thinks about the situations, her attention turns to the her claw tips on her hands. "If its negligence upon the medical mage, they're put on probation, and eventually get their license revoked."

She glances over to Tassilda with a strained smirk. "If the adventuring group is hindering the medical mage from getting their hours done, the guild sends an operative out to... Firmly and assertively explain... the importance of supporting the medical staffs' needs and how it may extensively delay the release of mission payouts."

Tassilda blinks to a blank stare of surprise and places the mirror down on the nightstand. "Oh, my. Well, you have my appreciation for keeping up with your quota. I certainly could not stand to have to contend with that much regulation."

Deedri smiles and nods graciously. "It's a small inconvenience really."

A thought drifts forward in her mind and she focuses an inquisitive gaze at Tassilda. "You know, I've been curious, why did you focus on charm and counter magics?"

A sly grin graces Tassilda's lips as she narrows an amused glance to Deedri. "Oh, it's really very simple. You don't need great attack or defense spells when your opponents have no desire to attack you. And, it doesn't matter what spells someone has if they rendered moot before they affect you."

Deedri eyes follow the reasoning in her mind and she agrees. She shifts her focus to the clear bottle of dark fluid and looks to her toes. She draws up her legs closer and examines the roughed tips of her toe claws with a tinge of annoyance. "Do you have anything that'll help with this? Running on the pavement really did a number on my claws."

Tassilda leans out, surveys the scuffs, marks, and wear upon the tips of Deedri's toe claws, and smiles confidently. "Oh, of course I do. Do you need anything for you finger claws?"

Deedri flexes her fingers, inspects the points on each tips, and shakes her head. "No. They're okay."

She narrows a stern stare upon her open hand, curls her digits slightly inwards, and lowers her tone slightly. "But, I have been thinking about sharpening them."

A few bags shopping bags with a colorful "Miradia's Magic Materials" logo sit on the coffee table in front of the couch. A few containers of reagents, packs of thick paper, and a stack of books fill the table space between the shopping bags. A bookmark marks a place in a copy of "The Illustrated Guide to Magical History". Nearby, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia sit around the dining table. Sotalia enthusiastically explains magical basics with exaggerated gestures and elaborate demonstrations. "Without getting too deep into details, the easiest way to think of your magical flows are On, Near, and Far. On is what magical energies are on you here. Near is magic energy that is relatively near you in the aether. And Far is pretty much anything towards the Abstract Prism."

Cideeda gradually nods her head and maintains blank eye contact with Sotalia. Dretphi glances briefly down at the notepad in front her to write down a few notes. Sotalia continues her explanation and pans her gaze between Dretphi and Cideeda. "Now, most of the magical energy you two will flow is On you. It's the immediate source you have to will into your spells. It's limited, but what you use is replaced when it flows to On from Near."

Bach's attention rests upon a pad of thick paper and his careful, purposeful strokes of a finely haired brush. As Sotalia pantomimes out a simplified process of magical flow transition, Bach calmly dips the tip into a small bowl of black ink, next to a sliced lime and a salt shaker. He lowers the brush upon the paper and inks out a series of branching, interconnected lines. With calligraphic flair, he adorns the page with a network of lines that form a simple maze. He pauses a moment to listen to Sotalia list through a number of techniques to practice flowing magical energy, and glances at the attentive, slightly overwhelmed stares that Cideeda and Dretphi give Sotalia.

Sotalia stops her lecture and smiles eagerly to Cideeda and Dretphi. "So... Any questions?"

Cideeda blinks a few times and cocks her head to side in puzzlement. "Well, what practice technique should we use?"

Sotalia points out the collection of practice focuses on the table top. "Well, practice focuses help with getting used to moving a lot of magical energy. So, I would start with that right now to build up your power."

Bach places the final touches on another ink maze and slides a piece of paper to Cideeda and Dretphi with a smirk. "And it also helps, to practice fine flow control."

Examining the papers, Sotalia perks her brow as she recognizes the drawings on the page and her interest piques. "Those look like flow mazes. Oh! I used to do those all the time as a teenager. I had the fastest times in the mages club back in high school."

Cideeda curiously inspects the piece of inked paper and her ears flick with her thoughts. Dretphi turns her head to face Bach and eyes the paper in her hand. "How do these function?"

Bach leans over the table, reaches out both hands to direct Cideeda and Dretphi to large circular spots on the pages, and grins. "It's simple enough. Place a finger on the starting dots and flow some magical energy."

Cideeda and Dretphi exchange looks, both shrug, and place fingers on starting spots. Dretphi concentrates her gaze upon the piece of paper. Within seconds, a faint silvery wave traces along all the inked paths, and illuminates the entire network. Cideeda narrows her eyes, grits her teeth, and strains her focus. Slowly, a gradual progression of green creeps onto the lines and overtakes the black on the page. When the last bit of dark path glows green, Cideeda releases her frustrations with a triumphant exhale and relaxes back in her chair. "Wow... That's actually really challenging."

Bach nods with a sly smirk and lifts a brow towards both Cideeda and Dretphi. "Yes it is. Especially, when you get to the point of just lighting up the path to the exit with no extra branches."

Cideeda's emerald eyes open wide and she stares down the flow maze in bewilderment. Dretphi blinks, drops her head to examine the paper under her finger and twists her lips in contemplation. Bach smiles and shrugs with a laugh. "Ah, don't worry. Once you get the feel of how the energy reacts to you, it gets a LOT easier. But, it may take awhile to figure that initial bit out. Took me a while, too."

Propping her head up by a hand with arm on the table, Sotalia watches happily as both Cideeda and Dretphi test their magical mettle against their paper puzzles. She glances over to Bach with a mischievous grin, reaches one hand over for the bowl of ink with the brush in it, and frees the other hand to slide blank pages over. "So... You up for a real challenge?"

Bach narrows his gaze, lifts an amused eyebrow, and dons a nonchalant tone. "Maybe? If you can present one."

Sotalia pauses at the last statement, focuses a competitive glare at Bach, and then turns her full attention to the page in front of her. She picks up the brush and deftly details out an elaborate array of pathways and lines. She fills the network of confusion with segments of chaos, splintered forks, and feathered branches. In the minutes Sotalia spends to the construction of her masterpiece, Cideeda and Dretphi continue their practice and Bach carefully grants just enough assistance to help them out. Sotalia finally places the brush down, blows a gentle breath to dry the ink on the page, and confidently presents the advance maze to Bach. "Here you go."

Bach eyes scan the chaotic pathways and works through a bit of apprehension. But, he nods slowly and smiles slyly at Sotalia. "Okay. I'll give it a shot. But, I think it's only fair I make one for you."

An eager glint sparks in Sotalia's golden eyes and she rests her head upon both palms with a devilish grin. "Oh, but of course..."

Bach guides the bowl of ink back over and glides a piece of think paper in front of him. He lifts up the bowl, hovers it over just over the page, and pours a blob of ink on the page. Sotalia tries in vain to hide her bewilderment, and snarls her upper lip with wide eyes staring at the scene before her. Bach purposefully presses his finger into the blob of ink on the paper, and a blue glow emits from his eyes. A magical flow of blue brightly illuminates the ink and series of thin lines grow from the blob. The charged ink spreads out on its own in intricate patterns and fanciful paths, each branching into complex routes and rejoining prior paths. As the maze expands upon the page, Sotalia's confident grin wanes to an awkward smile, and her wavering stare telegraphs her agitation. Cideeda and Dretphi both stop practicing to watch. Dretphi discreetly hides her smirk behind her hand and Cideeda awaits quietly with a tight smile.

Bach, Cideeda, and Dretphi watch expectantly as Sotalia pours her full focus upon the finely crafted, hectic flow maze on the paper. Sotalia grimaces and grits her teeth as a singular path of golden energy edges closer and closer to the exit point of the maze. Her long nailed fingers remain firmly pressed on the starting blob of ink. Above the dining room table, Sebastian hovers above, observes the intense progress, and roughly points out a spot with an ill-humored smirk. "Hmm. Looks like it's starting to leak down that branch over there-"

Sotalia mumbles forcibly through her lips and winces as her attention shifts briefly. "I. Know. Sebastian."

The flow of gold approaches the exit, creeps out into the end point, and illuminates the finish place brightly. Sotalia tensely waits a few seconds. Bach and Sebastian exchange glances and Sebastian calls out. "Clean path! Time?"

Bach taps the button on the screen of his aetherphone. Sotalia lifts her hand from the page and flops back into her chair with a pant. "Ha! Still got it!"

Bach quirks an eye brow with a sly smile and reads off the number on his phone. "Fifteen minutes and forty three seconds. Not bad."

Sotalia eyes spring open and she reaches out for Bach's phone with a frustrated growl. "What?! There's no way it was that long!"

Cideeda retrieves her phone out of her shorts pocket, glances at it after pressing a button, and nods in confirmation. "Yes it was. It's been about fifteen minutes."

Flexing her the fingers on her hand, Sotalia glares at the black ink paths on the thick paper and twists her lips as her frustration reveals itself more. Bach shrugs with a smile and highlights his tone with an honest appreciation. "That's actually a really good time. I put a lot of nasty tricks in that one, so that's quite an accomplishment."

Shifting her full focus, Sotalia aims her inquisitive stare right at Bach and speaks with a tinge of a growl. "Let's see how long it takes you."

Bach blinks as he processes the context clues and slides his chair back, averting his eyes towards the refrigerator. "You know before that, we should probably think about... Um... Dinner?"

Sebastian floats his ethereal form back from the table and down upon the floor, and nods in thought. "Probably a good idea, bro. I'll go check on Aristespha. She's probably gotten wrapped up in sorting through all those pictures and stopped paying attention to the time, again."

He drifts through the archway into the hallway and leaves the team, just as Bach warily get up from the table under the watchful stare of Sotalia and the amusement of Cideeda and Dretphi. Sebastian glides down the hall to the last bedroom door and phases through. The late afternoon sun cast a few rays on the bedroom floor and the document and tablet covered desk. Sebastian furrows his brow and tilts his head to the side as the lack of someone at the desk confuses him. From the bed, a familiar sigh catches his attention, and he observes a figure under the sheet quietly mumble a dialect of evuukian to herself. Sebastian floats over next to the head of the bed, waits a few moments to listen to the annoyed grumbles, and smiles as watches the tips of a pair of long ivory, gray and blue hinted ears poke out from under the comforter. He kneels down and speaks with a gentle tone. "What's wrong, dear?"

The bed covers shift and an opening lifts up to reveal a pair of violet eyes behind a mess of silvery blue hair. Aristespha groans and exhales with an annoyed moan. She stirs underneath the covers, glances down to the glow of screen within the fabric cave, and extends her hand with aetherphone to Sebastian. She presents a prominent section of text within a very long message and grumbles. "This... Sebastian."

Sebastian's ghostly form examines the paragraphs and slowly nods in understand with a reassuring smile. "Oh. Well, we have been neglecting your hours, dear. Don't worry. We can take some time soon so you can work on them. I think a bit of a break from anything too heavy or crazy is in order and-"

Aristespha's hand withdraws back into the comfort the bed sheets. With the screen illuminating her face, she drags a finger up to scroll the document and turns the phone back towards Sebastian. "Look..."

As his eyes follow the lines of new text, Sebastian's expression tints with concern and he musters up the best awkward grin he can. "Well, I guess we'll take a break this week then, dear. It'll be fine. You just need to work down your quota this week. Then, you won't have to worry about it for a while."

Aristespha breathes in, pauses, and exhales a mixture of annoyance, sadness, and frustration. "Yes. I know."

She reaches her arm out to rest her phone on the nightstand, pulls the sheets off her head, and attempts to sort through the chaotic mess of her long hair. "It's just... Right after we find some possibly useful information, Bach revealing his ability, and..."

She sits up slowly, crosses her arms, and grumbles with a petulant posture. "I REALLY do not want to spend the rest of this week doing clinical diagnostics. If they could postpone it for a month or something... But, the Hattan attack has redirected staff from other places to help out."

Sebastian hovers to a seat on the bed next to Aristespha and smiles lovingly to her. "Now, now, dear. You know we are suppose to be trying to be on the heroic side of the adventuring business. And, you should do your part for the public good."

Aristespha rolls her eyes and works out a grimace on her face with a groan. Sebastian leans over closer to her and chuckles lightly. "Don't worry, dear. Your research will still be here, all for you to explore. I don't think anyone is going to solve it before you. And, it'd be a good change of pace for you."

Aristespha tries to direct a hard glare to Sebastian, but it wavers almost immediately and a lovingly smile forms. She relaxes her shoulders, extends a hand out to Sebastian as her eyes glow violet, and pulls him over for a long, tender kiss. Seconds later, she slowly releases Sebastian, her eyes dim, and she narrows a sinister gaze at him. "Okay, Sebastian. But, if I have to treat anything disgusting, nasty, and/or stupid you are going to have to listen to every single little detail. You try to hide in the sword and I'll use telepathic magics to show you the mental imagery."

Sebastian dons a heroic grin and winks at Aristespha. "But, of course, dear. I will brave the worst stories for you."

With a playful roll of the eyes, Aristespha slides the rest of the covers off her, flipping the fabric through Sebastian's ghostly visage to his brief shudder. She stretches her back, and guides her long silvery blue hair over with an amused groan. "You know there's going to be at least one incident with someone doing something stupid with their genitals. That's just how my luck is."

Sebastian glides up to stand in a brave pose and nods to Aristespha. "I look forward to hear all about it."

A dark giggle escapes from Aristespha. "You say that now."

He breaks his act and leans down close to Aristespha. "The rest of the group is thinking about diner. So, you might want to say something soon, especially since Sotalia is in one her competitive moods against Bach at the moment. So... Dinner might be a good distraction."

Aristespha shifts her weigh forward, stands up on her feet, picks up her phone, and walks towards the bedroom. As she opens the door, she taps through to a list of saved restaurants and glances behind to Sebastian. "I think I'll vote for a place to order pick up and I'll take Bach with me to help carry the food."

Sebastian gives a thumbs up and nod as he floats behind Aristespha.