Episode 45

Inside the garage of the ranch style house, the door to the kitchen swings open and Cideeda swiftly descends the few wooden stairs to the concrete floor. She secures her grip on two metal boxes by their handles and carries them at her sides. Dretphi stands next to the humvee, inspects the contents currently in the open rear cargo area, and checks off items on a paper list. Cideeda stops next to Dretphi, hoists up the painted steel containers briefly into view, and quizzically eyes Dretphi. "Ammo and batteries. In the back or the cab?"

Dretphi examines the dimensions of the boxes, glances over to the cargo area, and motions towards the front of the vehicle. "Cab. Keep it easy to access."

Cideeda nods with a smile, and swings her momentum forward around the back of the vehicle. "Sounds good to me."

She skillfully keeps her balance with the mass of the metal boxes and lifts them up through the open back passenger's door upon the cab floor. Bach turns his upper body, scoots over from the aisle, and meets Cideeda's gaze. "Where do you want ‘em?"

Cideeda points a claw tip over into the aisle area behind the front center console, switches her attention to the front of the far back bench seat, and circles out an area with a gesture. "One in the front and one in the back. I packed equal amounts of shells, bullets, and batteries in both. That way there's something we can use in either."

Sotalia slowly steps down the garage steps, shrugs both her shoulders, and slide the straps to satchels at her sides. She steps over to the back of the humvee and rests the bags upon the lip of the hatchway. "Here's the magical detection and test equipment."

Dretphi glances over, nods, and marks it down on the notepad in her hands. "Good. Should be room in the corner."

Aristespha walks down the stairs with Sebastian floating behind. She quickly crosses the distance between the kitchen door and garage opening, narrowing her eyes towards the back of the humvee. She moves to the other side of Sotalia in the hatchway of the vehicle, removes an emergency medical box off the inside side wall, and opens it up for inspection. "Let's see..."

She sifts through the contents, counts the number of items in the sections, and examines the quality of the supplies. "Okay. Not too terrible. But, these potions are looking old. Sotalia? Do you remember when we made this last batch?"

After waiting for a reply, Aristespha turns her head towards Sotalia and quirks a confused eyebrow. In the noon sun, Sotalia brushes her hands through her fiery orange, wavy hair and twirls the ends between her long nailed fingers with an indecisive sigh. Aristespha stands up, smirks at the distracted Sotalia, and chuckles lightly. "So, are you going to dye it back?"

Sotalia blinks back to awareness, pivots to meet the gazes of Aristespha, Dretphi, and Sebastian, and visibly mulls the idea over. "I don't know. I'm so used to it being dark red... But, now that the secret is out, the allure feels gone. I think I'll keep it, but that means I'll need to get my guild ID updated here soon."

Aristespha slowly nods in understanding and sighs. "Another thing I need to update before they send me a sternly worded warning notice."

Cideeda steps around from the side of the humvee, up to the group with Bach trailing behind. She reaches into her shorts pocket, retrieves her wallet, and parts it open to gaze at her ID picture. "I'm not far behind you. I've been meaning to get this picture redone."

Bach glances down to the image in Cideeda's wallet, stifles a snort, and attempts to play it off nonchalantly. "That's not THAT bad of a picture."

A pair of emerald green eyes stare up at Bach and Cideeda lifts an eye brow with a toothy grin. "Oh, just you wait. They were nice to you with your intern ID. But, I want to see what picture they take for your full guild ID."

Bach smiles awkwardly and shrugs his shoulders. "They can't all be that bad."

Dretphi shakes her head, retrieves her guild ID from her pocket, and presents it to Bach. "Beg to differ."

Aristespha smirks in amusement, pulls out a lanyard of various official cards and badges, and flips to her guild ID card. Sotalia rolls her eyes, bites her lip, and playfully resigns to the ambient social pressure. She retrieves her aetherphone from her yoga pants pocket, flips it over to the backside of the case, and slides out her guild ID to join the group presentation. Bach surveys the different pictures on the cards and slowly drops his jaw at the bad poses, terrible timing, and poor photography overall. "Wow... I just... Gods... Do they contract the same people who do the driver's licenses in High Alton?"

Sebastian remains quiet and idly floats nearby Aristespha, feigning interest elsewhere. An amused smile graces Aristespha's lips, and she winks at Sebastian and directs her voice to Bach. "Of course, if you want to see a real masterpiece of photography, I think I might be able to bring up the digital copy of Sebastian's guild ID photo..."

As Bach's interest starts to shift away, he notices a particular number on Sotalia's guild card. Below a finger conveniently hiding the birth date field on the ID, he immediately focuses his full attention on a measurement. "One hundred eighty three centimeters tall?"

He narrows his incredulous stare at Sotalia. His eyes shift between the top of her head and points of comparison from others in the group. Sotalia grins slyly at the attention, raises a hand well over her head, and slowly lowers a level palm downwards, just barely off to the side of her head. Eventually, she gradually rests her fingers upon the tallest crest of one of her horns and smiles proudly with her other hand on her hip. "Guild rules state that horns count for the purposes of your profile height as they are inflexible structures that are typically affixed to your person."

Bach blinks to his puzzlement as his mind processes the stipulation. Aristespha rolls her eyes dramatically, steps away towards the kitchen door, and shakes her head with twisting smirk. "Still such a shameless abuse of the definition of profile height."

Sotalia scoffs jokingly at Aristespha and winks at Bach with a humored tone in her voice. "Oh, is someone still sore they started disqualifying ear tips above the head?"

In the main kitchen area, Bach and Aristespha stand on either side of the large double basin sink. Aristespha carefully arranges a number of vials, tubes, and containers into particular groups and sorts through reagents and materials upon piles upon paper. She flips through a well worn book, stops at a particular page, and hands the tome over to Bach with a finger resting upon a particular section of text. "We need some more stamina potions. If you could start prepping one part, I'll work on the other part of the first stage. Consider it a refresher course in alchemy."

Bach grasps onto the book, scans over the text, and nods as he rests it upon the counter top nearby. "Sounds good to me."

Minutes go by as the two go through intricate processes. They cut, slice, and dice ingredients. They take turns getting vials and tubes, using the basins of the sink to fill and wash. Occasionally, Bach tilts the page of book into view of Aristespha, points out a few lines, and Aristespha calmly instructs clarifications to Bach. Aristespha lifts up a large copper, green speckled cauldron from the ground with assistance from Bach, and the two rest it upon a large electric hotplate on a floor stand. Bach eyes the large pot and glances over to Aristespha with a smirk. "Nothing like the classics, eh?"

Aristespha rolls her eyes with a twist in the corner of mouth and sighs humored with a shake of her head. "It was my great grandmother's before she gave it to me as an excuse to upgrade her home lab. As cliché as it is, it works wonderfully for cooking large volumes."

She kneels down, adjusts the knobs on the hotplate controls, and stands back up to smile at Bach. "The electric hotplate is my addition, though."

Bach nods in at the configuration and glances over to Aristespha quizzically. "Induction or radiant?"

A confident grin graces Aristespha's lips and she briefly assumes a proud stance. "Both."

With a momentarily impressed expression, Bach tilts his head to the side as he watches the indicator lights illuminate the surface of the hotplate and information text updates on a control console display. Under guidance from Aristespha, Bach repeats filling a large measuring cup from the sink faucet and emptying out into the cauldron. In between the additions of water, Aristespha introduces scoops of reagents and stirs the heating mixture. After the last pour of water and sprinkling of ingredients, Aristespha and Bach stand back to idly observe the slow bubbling and gradual changes of the concoction. Eventually, Aristespha's posture shifts slightly and she flexes the fingers at her sides. After a few moments, she eyes Bach with an astute tone. "I've been thinking. We should start investigating your abilities regarding your use of Elder energy and-"

A stern, sharp voice resonates out from Bach's mouth and matches his resolute stare at Aristespha. "No."

Aristespha blinks as she stumbles out of her sentence and gawks at Bach in bewilderment. "Um... I know you've been hesitant to use it before, but there could be great potential. With time and careful practice we might be able to-"

A stronger tone rises up from Bach and he narrows down a determined glare to Aristespha. "No."

As Aristespha processes the refusal, flits of emotion play out on her face and she tries to maintain her composure. She crosses her arms tightly, stiffens her stance, and her violet eyes shift to a cold stare. Her mouth twists and face contorts, containing her flashes of frustration and irritation. Bach briefly holds up a hand to get her attention, lowers it down while exhaling calmly, and explains with a careful, purposeful voice. "Listen, it's been a crazy ride and despite how imposed upon me a lot of this has been... I've actually found it extremely helpful. And a lot of it, I've needed to do anyway. But, I always found excuses to avoid doing it. But for THIS, I've thought about A LOT longer than you've had a chance to."

He concentrates his blue eyed stare right into Aristespha's violet eyes and sighs firmly, with apologetic tinges. "THIS is nothing I'm going to explore. I had really hoped to never use it ever again. Understand, I was prepared to live my life as a lame mage just to never risk tapping into THIS again.

With a slow tilt of the head to a shoulder, he angles his head to focus his gaze at Aristespha's fading stern demeanor. "Given what I've learned recently and what I've learned before... I think we're both thinking about the same possibilities... The same things that THIS could be used for."

Bach leans in close, darkens his tone, and solemnly speaks. "But, given what you've seen... How dangerous it was... How uncontrollable it was... How unpredictable it was... Do you honestly think that THIS is anything we should risk right now?"

Cracks of terror leak into his expression and trembles of fear infiltrates Bach's tone. "What ever control I tried barely worked... And... quickly fell apart. It took everything I had to push it back... It was a stupid risk to use it, but... I didn't want to find out what would happen if I didn't use it then."

Aristespha blankly gazes back at Bach and sorts through a torrent of emotion upon her face. After a few minutes, she drops her head down, relaxes her arms, breathes out her unease, and wipes the damp corners of her eyes. "You are right. Oh gods..."

She lifts her head back up, guides her silvery blue hair back over her shoulders and her long ears, and draws a long, remorseful breath in through her nose. "I sincerely apologize... I am truly sorry. I just... I've been in this mindset with the worst case of tunnel vision. I've been so oblivious. Just so single minded in..."

A genuine smile forms from the corner of Bach's mouth and he chuckles lightly. "Been trying to find any other answer than the one you got?"

Aristespha nods, rolls her eyes at herself, and smirks weakly. "Yes. I keep trying to figure out the quickest, easiest solution and... I keep on finding out that there just aren't any. I keep on hitting the same brick wall and trying everything against it. But, the situation has changed so much, that I'm not sure what to do anymore."

She eyes Bach with hint of unease coloring her face. "I'm obviously well outside the familiar at this point."

Bach stands back up straight, grins nonchalantly, and shrugs his shoulders with his hands out to the side. "Welcome to the club. Sometimes life scares you silly, drags you out of your comfort zone, and pushes you into a whole new situation."

Aristespha bites her lower lip, averts her eyes briefly away from Bach, and struggles to contend with the surge of embarrassment and shame. "Yeah. That is another thing I have been thinking about, too. If it's any value from me, I do truly appreciate how cooperative and helpful you've been to everyone. Despite how, insistent and demanding we... I... especially have been. I am sorry beyond my words for our initial proceedings."

Bach nods with an amused smile and laughs. "It does have value. I'm mostly over it by now. But, I think I'm allowed a few more snide remarks about it all. And really, I'm better off now than I was hoping to be. But, I would REALLY appreciate future efforts for my betterment to NOT involve kidnapping. I'm actually pretty open to most suggestions."

Pondering quietly a few thoughts, Aristespha quirks an inquiring brow at Bach and rests her hands on her sides. "I'm kind of curious now. If we decided to not bring you along, what would you have done? It didn't seem like you were in a good situation."

With a long trailing sigh, Bach grits his teeth as he thinks aloud. "I don't quite know. Sell off the furniture for another month's rent? Pawn off magic trinkets at that bar for food? But, that would have only gotten so far..."

He cringes and grumbles sadly. "Eventually, move back in with my parents...?"

Aristespha briefly twists her mouth to a frown and sighs understandingly. "That's never the option you want to undertake. I have sacrificed much to avoid that myself. So many minimum wage jobs."

Bach turns his attention to the rolling boil of the cauldron and awkwardly grins. "Yeah. So, oddly, being abducted was kind of a rough step in the right direction. Even if I had gotten away, I had NO IDEA what I was going to do next. Running only works so long as you have a place to run to."

With slow nod, Aristespha stirs a glass rod in the bubbling mixture and presents a genuine smile to Bach. "Well, I hope things are still taking similar rough steps in the right direction, despite the appearances."

She squints at the darkening color of the brew and points over towards the counter top as she continues a constant stir. "Okay, I think we're getting close. Could you help handle everything on the counter top, please? It really helps having someone else sort through and pass things along."

Bach steps over at the ready and hovers his hands over the collection of alchemical instruments. "Okay, what do I do?"

A glint of morning light reflects off the Flames of the Phoenix logo on the black sports utility vehicle as it rolls into a large clearing off the highway. In the open area of short grass and old gravel, light military vehicles warm in the rising sunlight while parked around large support vehicles. Within the encampment, people wander about and tend to their duties. Chad steers the vehicle closer to the core of the camp and searches the vicinity. Veevi, Tassilda, Deedri, Trakenthin, and Modoran look out the windows at the mercenary forces and the common themes of iconography. A logo of medieval helm upon a gear background and crossed swords with the words "Chrome Crusaders" shines upon vehicles, uniforms, and the powered armor suits. Chad slows the sports utility vehicle into an area that an officer designates. A few seconds later, other vans for the Next Adventurers of Nexus crew pull into other spots under the direction of uniformed man. Chad glances over to everyone in the cab and grins proudly. "Well, I think it's time we make our presence."

The group exits the vehicle and form roughly behind Chad as he walks forward towards the main part of the encampment. Veevi quickly assumes a spot right next to Chad, briefly sneaking a glance shyly behind at Deedri. Afterwards, she resumes her normal outgoing attitude towards Chad. Deedri and Tassilda amble behind to survey the area, while Trakenthin and Modoran trail long behind to gawk at the impressive equipment and vehicles. The Next Adventurers of Nexus crew attempt to disperse for the most ideal filming positions, but retreat back to less desirable positions under the unamused eyes of a few uniformed personnel and the stare of the helmet visor worn by power armored trooper. Eventually, the groups funnel into a central core of the camp. The aroma of breakfast food fills the air and the peaceful drone of casual conversation radiates over the small mess area. Chad searches around and squints towards a number of armored mech troopers. "Where is the CO?"

Deedri's ears twitch, flick towards a direction, and guide her head to face towards a noise. "Those are some really heavy footsteps."

From behind a long, tall utility truck, an imposing metal figure steps around the corner. With each step forward, thickly layered, plated boots sink firmly under the weigh into the mix of gravel and dirt. The heavy form moves with purposeful motion. Different sections of the technological suit work in unison and follow the will of the wearer. In stark contrast to the well-maintained sheen and superficial blemishes of the knightly metal body, a boldly grinning man's head rises out of the top of the breastplate. A breeze glides along the camp and blows the tips of graying, short black hair and the man narrows a brown eyed, curious gaze at Chad as he stops in front. "Chad Bosch, I assume?"

Chad tilts his head slightly up to meet the eyes of the power armored man and puts forth his hand to shake. "Senior Paladin Maxon, I assume?"

Senior Paladin Maxon nods with an amused smile. "Unfortunately for some."

He glances down at Chad's outstretched hand, smirks, and grasps it with a powered gauntlet hydraulically sounding out. "Interesting. Most hesitate shaking our hands when mech suited."

Chad smiles with a confident, bright white smile, and shakes Maxon's hand. "Well, I just know your particular model of suit has a limiter in the gauntlet to prevent accidental crushing of equipment... and personnel."

Maxon tightly grips Chad's hand and Chad responds in kind with a determined stare at Maxon. After a few seconds, both release their hands and a loud fit of laughter escapes Maxon. He shakes his head with a brilliant smile. "HA! I wondered if you were THAT Bosch's son. Know your father too well. Could never get that man to ever join us on a mission, though. But, to his credit he always loved hearing about it afterwards."

A frown sneaks out from the corners of Chad's mouth and he tries to maintain a neutral expression despite growing dissatisfaction. Maxon lifts a brow at Chad, grins slyly, and chuckles lightly. "But, since you are out adventuring, I think I'm going to assume you take more after that grandfather of yours."

Chad eyes flit wide and his mood brightens immediately back to a confident smile. "I'd like to think so, sir."

Maxon swings his armored arm out towards the tables, chairs, and huge tents in the core of the camp. "If you haven't had breakfast yet, please enjoy. We'll discuss our current mission and the most important details to you and your group. Make yourself at home."

Chad and Maxon walk towards a very prominent, decorated table under the largest, most elaborate tent in the middle of modest mess area. Veevi attempts to keep up with Chad and grace his side, but falls back. She settles to trailing behind him in the narrow aisles between tables and chairs. Modoran, Deedri, and Trakenthin follow the smells of food towards a line of people and the looming mist of cooking food. Tassilda pauses in thought and watches the activities of nearby mages applying enchantments upon equipment and armor.

From behind, she hears an eloquent, pleasantly flowing pronunciation of a particular dialect of Emin from a calm male voice. In her surprise, she momentarily blushes and quickly determines the source. With a slow pivot and a flattered smile growing on her lips, she faces a light power armored form standing at attention and her eyes quickly scan the suited figure. During the survey, she mentally notes the excellent points of physique peeking through the softer, flexible parts of the outfit and gradually shifts her attention upwards towards the helm. Tassilda's light blue on black eyes widen and she gawks at the prominent, black horns on the fully helmeted head of the man. After a few moments, the man pauses in thought, nods his head down at Tassilda, and gently asks. "My most sincere apologies, my dearest lady. I may have guessed the wrong Emin dialect and did not relay my intentions correctly. Do you require any assistance?"

Tassilda flutters her eyes, and grins with an enamored hint. "You did guess wrong, but I pleasantly understood. It is very surprising to hear that lovely dialect all the way out here. As for assistance..."

A sly curl appears in the corners of her mouth, her pose slides towards enticing, and she gestures towards the group lead by Chad and Maxon. "I wouldn't mind if someone knowledgeable could explain the layout of the camp as they escorted me towards my group."

She lifts quizzical eye brow and points a curious hand towards the light power armored man. He gradually straightens his posture and speaks. "My apologies again, my lady. I am Junior Paladin Daedrican. At your service."

Tassilda smiles contentedly, and awaits a response. Junior Paladin Daedrican bows slightly, swinging his arm out slowly towards the nearby aisle. "Your lead, my lady."

Tassilda nods graciously, turns away to step forward pass Junior Paladin Daedrican, suppresses a flash of giddiness on her face, mutes a spring in her step, and tries to hide a near reflexive bite of her lower lip.

The thick, forest canopy shields the overhead sun from fully reaching the mossy, vegetation covered floor. Underneath the perimeter of old, tall trees, evuukians walk upon worn paths between ancient stonework structures. Time and persistent nature barely allow the buildings to reveal themselves between breaks in the thick plant cover. Guards adorned in fanciful, nature inspired attire stand at attention in front of key entry points throughout the area. Evuukians dutifully travel towards destinations out beyond the clearing into the underbrush, foliage intricately woven in their clothing. With bows hanging from their shoulders, they inspect their quivers of arrows and depart stealthily from view. An evuukian woman purposefully steps across the open passages between the overgrown structures and approaches an isolated building far from the center of the encampment. During her walk, she keeps a covered tray level in front of her and surveys the pair of guards outside the only entry inside the lone structure. She stops, stares between both the stoic guardians with stern, turquoise eyes from her dark tan face, and throws her head back to shift her dark green braids. Squinting into the darkness past the doorway, she questions the two guards in evuukian with a curious, concerned tone.

The two sentries glance to each other and shake their heads at the woman. While one inspects around the corner into inside space, the other shrugs with a long sigh. He shakes his head and speaks a few answers back in evuukian, hints of similar concern rising from an initially stoic but fading cadence. The woman nods and steps through the doorway inside. Past the contrast of the outside light, dimly glowing crystals illuminate the interior hallway. The woman slowly moves to the end of the passage to a solitary metal door. She balances the covered tray on one hand, and slides the steel door to a rectangular window. Her eyes search the dark void inside and she gently calls out into the area. "Faelatelia?"

From one side of the small cell, a thin figure stirs, and a pair of vibrant sky blue eyes reflect the traces of light slipping into the room. A weak, meek voice barely peeps. "C-c-chelind-d-dia?"

Chelindia's eyes widen, a frown forms around her gritting teeth, and she checks the path behind her. Nothing resides in the hallway. Past the doorway into the bright outside, Chelindia sees only the outlines of guard shoulders and arms on either side of the exit. She returns her attention ahead, quietly undoes the large lock, and carefully opens the heavy metal door. The ambient hallway light reveals the stone details of the small windowless enclosure, the crude bathroom facilities, and a thin evuukian teenager shielding her eyes from the sudden change of brightness. Chelindia kneels down next to the rough cot which Faelatelia shakily sits up upon. Gazing with worry upon Faelatelia's unkempt chestnut hair and blue hinted face, Chelindia speaks softly with encouraging evuukian phrases and straightens up the teenager's worn clothing.

Faelatelia gradually draws in a long breath, releases a shaky sigh, and musters her strength. Chelindia searches around the area and finds an uncovered tray of barely eaten food. She gently places her hands upon young evuukian's shoulders and cranes her head to gaze into Faelatelia's eyes. In between sentences of comforting evuukian, Chelindia directs Faelatelia's attention to the old tray of food and then uncovers the fresh food brought in on the new tray. Faelatelia lowers her head down, averts her eyes from Chelindia, and defiantly spits out a series of evuukian curses. Chelindia waits patiently and meets the teary face of Faelatelia's as she lifts her head back up. A fit of sniffles and sobs prompts Chelindia to embrace the scared teenager, and Faelatelia hugs as tightly as she can manage in return. Chelindia whispers her concern and passes along hopeful words. After a few minutes of encouragement, the two release each other. Faelatelia slowly breathes in, exhales out her nerves, and stares at Chelindia with reservation but also renewed faith. Chelindia presents a warm smile, hoists the new tray of food and water upon Faelatelia's lap, and gently pats her shoulder.

She grasps onto the old tray, stands up straight, and walks out the doorway. She quickly searches the area just outside the cell, spots an illumination crystal in a nearby sconce, plucks in off the platform, and resettles it into a similar holder within the confines of the cell. With a smile and nod to an appreciative, hungry Faelatelia, she slowly closes the metal cell door. She engages the lock, but leaves the window open.

Chelindia exits the prison building with a nod to both guards, strides out across the area along a path, and travels towards the largest structure in the vicinity. As she nears the structure, her posture straightens, her demeanor stiffens, and her stare develops a cold calculated exterior. A young evuukian man crosses in front of her, notices which direction she's going, and promptly stands clear out of the way. He greets Chelindia with a salute and waits. Chelindia stops in front of the man, examines him briefly, and holds the old food tray to him. After he grabs hold of the tray, she points out another overgrown building, barks out a stern order, and departs without another word. The evuukian man quickly rushes off without a further question.

Stepping through the main entryway of the largest ancient structure, Chelindia passes a small squad in nature themed outfits reviewing written instructions and exchanging other relevant information. She navigates the tall, wide hallways and catches glimpses into the many rooms that branch off. Her eyes squint at the small makeshift armory of swords, bows, arrows, and light, natural armor. She pauses briefly to watch a few mages apply their craft to wands, staffs, and other magical implements. She walks pass the improvised barracks of bunk beds and a few idling evuukians. After a number of similar diversions, she arrives at the end of the hallway to a set of towering, open double doors. Entering into the cavernous room, she surveys a gathering of evuukians reading materials, sorting through paperwork, studying maps, and writing notes along her way to raised platform at the center of the room.

An evuukian woman with long, flowing, gray hair, and ivory skin struts proudly along the perimeter of the central platform. She slows her gait and pauses occasionally to observe the progress of the diligent evuukians before resuming her plotting pace. When Chelindia stops at the steps leading to the rostrum, the woman pivots to face Chelindia with dark crimson eyes. "Chelindia."

Chelindia bows, stands back up straight, and greets the woman respectfully. "Meredosia."

Meredosia smiles confidently and asks a question in evuukian. Chelindia nods and carefully follows up with a simple, quick explanation. She continues, shifts gradually into a pleading tone, and calmly gestures a series of points, mentioning Faelatelia by name with the proposal. After finishing her statement, she awaits a response. Meredosia narrows her stare at Chelindia, ponders dramatically in thought, and swiftly spins away. She ambles along the platform, loudly retorts with a stern tone, and glances over her shoulder at Chelindia with a sly grin. Meredosia plants her feet exactly upon the central point of the platform, grips a finely gloved hand around an ornate amulet, and proudly smiles as she pivots to stare at Chelindia. With a bold tone, she dons an explanatory cadence, articulates her thoughts out with a free hand, and quirks a smug brow. Chelindia sighs respectfully, bows her head down, and submits a tenuous agreement. Meredosia nods to Chelindia, softens her focused gaze, and speaks calmly with sincerity in her evuukian words.

Chelindia stands back up straight, presents a smile to Meredosia, and speaks a few requests. Meredosia thinks a moment, relays her acceptance, and presents a genuine smile. Chelindia respectfully turns away and walks towards the exit. Meredosia grips her amulet tightly, directs her focus to the center of the platform, and eyes the faint outlines of ancient script forming a faded circle below her. Before exiting into the hall, Chelindia glances briefly over her shoulder and watches Meredosia. A few fine, barely visible threads of white magical energy drift lightly around the elegant attire and ivory skin of the evuukian woman above the central point of the platform. Eventually, the strands of magic converge into the crystalline center of the amulet. Chelindia returns her attention toward the hallway ahead, and a frown creeps from the corners of her mouth as her eyes search inside her mind. Soon, uncertainty taints her expression despite attempts to maintain a stoic demeanor.

Behind her, Meredosia pridefully grins as the white light inside the amulet increases in brightness ever so minutely.

Cideeda wraps her claw tipped fingers around the steering wheel of the humvee, twists her grip, and grits her sharp teeth. "What the fuck is the hold up?! How long does it take to mobilize a convoy?! It's not THAT big of one."

Sotalia flips through the holographic menus of the holoplayer, sifts through the different musical track listings, and curls an intrigued brow at a particular band name. She looks over her seat at Bach with a sly smirk and giggles an amused tune. "Oh my gods. You have THEIR entire discography?"

Bach leans over into the aisle, squints ahead at the mid-air projections, and rolls his blue eyes. "Well, you know... They had a few good hits and their album stuff isn't all that bad. There's a few songs I like to listen when the right mood hits. What can I say?"

Studying Bach's honest review, Sotalia twists a smile and sighs out her genuine agreement. "Oh, don't get me wrong. I like them, too. I just never run into anyone else who has anything beyond their hits."

Sebastian's ghostly form hovers in the middle of the aisle of the cab and exudes his boredom through from his far stare out the windshield. Aristespha flips through menus on the tablet upon her lap and taps the sword at her side. "Sebastian, you should probably return to the sword for now."

With an ethereal sigh, Sebastian shrugs his shoulder and continues float in the aisle nonchalantly. "I don't think it really matters right now, dear. The guy they have watching the rear hasn't looked over to us for the past fifteen minutes or so."

Dretphi squints her eyes, searches through a side window, and scans the surfaces of the vehicles ahead. After a minute, she spots a small logo on the side of vehicle a few convoy slots ahead. "I see a Chrome Crusader emblem. On the side of that truck ahead."

Sebastian blinks, follows the path Dretphi's arm points out, and notices the same marking. "Huh. I wonder what they are doing around here. They usually stick to larger jobs."

An alert chime rings out from Aristespha's pocket. She retrieves her aetherphone, enters a security code, and swipes through the on-screen interface. Tapping on a new entry in the message list, her interest piques and an intrigued smile grows on her face. "Kaleb and Lagi just got into aether tower range and transmitting the high resolution pictures of their early morning fly over."

She lifts her tablet up, rests her phone on her lap, and presses a few prompts upon the larger screen of the device. Seconds later, an overhead view of a heavily forested area appears on the display. Sebastian, Bach, and Dretphi position themselves in the cab to get the best possible view as Aristespha presents the picture on the screen to them. Dretphi's eyes flit wide and she traces out curious areas with her finger. "Strange. Old trees in a circular perimeter. Grouping of canopy gaps in the center the perimeter. A right angle shape? That is not natural. Something is there."

Aristespha, Bach, and Sebastian investigate the details closer and arrive at similar suspicions. Sebastian grins proudly to Dretphi and nods. "I definitely agree. I think that's a spot Kaleb and Lagi should fly over a little closer later on tonight."

Cideeda returns her gaze forward, flexes her grip on the humvee's steering wheel, and grumbles. "Okay, I'm about ready to drive through the median. I'm sure we can get really close to where we need to be before nightfall... But, I'm not so sure, if we have to wait for these idiots to move. So, any objections?"

Aristespha perks her brow, twists a sly smirk on her mouth, and shrugs her shoulders. "They're not highway police or military authority, it's not like they can legally stop us. And, I'll be happy to file a few complaints to the guild."

Sotalia's head snaps to focus upon the uniformed guard as he finally turns around to face the humvee behind the stalled convoy. "Okay, I'm going to get this guy's attention and see what the hell the hold up is."

She quickly opens her door, stands up on humvee cab floor, and waves energetically to the lone guard. "HEY! You! Yes, you! Come over here!"

The man blinks to attention and quickly walks over towards the humvee. Sebastian's ethereal visage fades back into the sword at Aristespha's side. "Finally. See if we can get a hold of whoever is organizing this mess."

Sotalia continues a mix of gestures and verbal encouragement to get the man to speed up. As the uniformed man arrives next to Sotalia's door, she sits on the side of her seat and addresses the man through the open door with a charming lift to her voice. "Thank you so much for coming over here. I just have to ask, what exactly is the hold up?"

With an official enough tone, the man attempts to stand stoically at attention with his response. "We are preparing a sweep down the southern route past the upper coming intersection. There's been some unfortunate delays-"

Cideeda quickly glances back over to Dretphi. After a silent exchange of looks, Dretphi remembers an important piece of information. "We take the eastern route at this intersection."

Cideeda nods in agreement and flashes a determined toothy grin to the man with an assertive stare right through him. "Well! That just works out. We're not going your way after the intersection, so we can just go around you."

The man awkwardly pauses his speech with his mouth hanging open, and glances over to the convoy. "Uh, I don't know about that. I'd have to check with my superior."

Sotalia flashes a sly grin, guides her fiery orange, wavy hair back, adjusts her posture towards alluring, and aims her eager golden eyes upon the man. "May I ask whom your superior is?"

With a brief fit of hesitation, the rear guard gathers his wits enough to speak. "Uh... Yes... It's Sergeant Matterhorn."

Sotalia blinks in thought, searches her mind, and curiously quizzes. "Quincy Matterhorn?"

The man nods in recognition and slight confusion. "Yes, ma'am."

Sebastian ghostly voice sounds out from the sword. "Oh, no way..."

Sotalia draws a wide grin on her face, concentrates her golden eyes upon the man in front of her, and speaks with playfully evil amusement. "Could you ask him if he know anything about a... Duck in Knox?"

The guard cocks his head uncertainly to the side, reaches for his radio attached to his shirt pocket, and steps away. "I'll see about that..."

The man walks a few meters away, converses carefully to his radio, and pauses before clearly stating. "Something about a... Duck in Knox?"

The radio falls silent for many seconds, and then a voice replies to the man's surprise. Turning around, the man approach Sotalia's side of the humvee and looks to her, puzzled by the situation. "Um... Your group is cleared to travel along the left shoulder past the convoy. And, I've been informed to give you Sergeant Matterhorn's direct contact information."

Sotalia settles back into her seat, slowly closes the door, and smiles graciously with a flattering tinge to the rear guard. "Thank you, so much. We won't keep you any longer from your work and be on our way."

The man nods as Cideeda promptly puts the humvee into gear, and the vehicle rolls off towards the left shoulder of the road. He surveys the area, turns his attention towards his thoughts, and eventually keys up the radio on his walk back to the rear of the convoy. "Sir? Is there something I should know about... Uh..."

The voice on the other end of the radio immediately interrupts. "Not if you ever want to do anything besides rear guarding the scrap trucks in the future."

The rear guard loses interest in this particular mystery.

People idle around the front of the convoy between the camera crews vans, Chrome Crusader vehicles, and the Flames of the Phoenix black sports utility vehicle. Senior Paladin Maxon stands with Chad and dramatically explains the plan with exaggerated arm motions. Chad responds and demonstrates his own understanding with elaborate hand gestures. Veevi attempts to gain the attention of Chad by maintaining a spot at his side, while occasionally glancing over to Deedri. Modoran nonchalantly suns himself upon the rear seat of the Flames of the Phoenix ride via the sun roof. Trakenthin awaits outside, leans upon the side of the vehicle, and keeps a watch over the area. Deedri converses with a few Chrome Crusader medical mages. Tassilda stands near Junior Paladin Daedrican, and the two talk, with sections of the dialog switching into emin dialects.

Along the left shoulder of the highway, a humvee quickly rolls by the standing convoy. The Next Adventurers of Nexus crew aim recording equipment in response. Chrome Crusaders personnel briefly inspect the vehicle. A few look towards one particular officer, and promptly return to their duties when he signals them to allow it through. Deedri spots the humvee and happily waves towards the familiar faces of the group, keeping mindful of who else may be watching. Chad eyes the team with a competitive bright white smile obscuring his lack of amusement, while Maxon boldly greets the passing vehicle. Veevi energetically waves at the group, trying to pull any attention towards her. Trakenthin searches through windows of the moving humvee, finds the eyes of Dretphi glaring at him, and narrows a sneering stare right back at her. Modoran lifts himself up from the way back seat, notices the humvee, and returns back to sun bathing.

Tassilda pauses her conversation with Daedrican, casually pivots around, and immediately notices the fiery orange, wavy hair of Sotalia. Her light blue on black eyes widen in surprise, then her lips part a sly smile of sheer satisfaction. Sotalia focuses her full attention upon Tassilda and studies her every motion. When they are the closest to each other in passing, Tassilda flashes a sinister grin, slides her long nailed fingers under her long, raven hair, and fluffs it back dramatically over her shoulders. She reaches into her pocket, lifts up a small vial with a milky fluid inside, and waves towards Sotalia between her thumb and index finger with a smug wink. A hard cringe of recognition nearly closes Sotalia's eye. She frowns to gritting teeth, individually pops her knuckles on a hand, and mouths silent swears.

When the humvee passes the convoy and rides off back on the main part of the road, Daedrican puzzles at Tassilda. Inside a Next Adventurers of Nexus van, Samantha grins near manically, leans out the passenger's window, and calls out to Gerald. "Gods almighty, please tell me you got shots of that!"

Gerald lifts his arm up and gives a solid thumbs up, while he continues recording.