Episode 63

Bach narrows his intensely focused stare upon the television, and contorts his face as he quickly presses buttons on the game console controller. He leans forward from his seat on the couch and keeps fidgeting in response to the fight going on the screen. As the characters on the television battle it out, Cideeda presents a toothy smirk, and unconsciously twitches her tail along with fast clicking of her claws on her game pad. Sotalia stands off to the side, swaying in place with her attention fully on the tense battle playing out on the screen. Near the dining table, Aristespha sorts through a stack of paperwork and tablets. She occasionally pauses a moment to glance over at the ongoing duel between Bach and Cideeda, and resumes filing through documents. Sebastian hovers next to Aristespha’s seat at the table, and glances over her shoulder when she lifts up a form. After a bit of discussion, Aristespha taps out an entry into a tablet and Sebastian distracts himself with game battle, idly mimicking the button presses for certain character moves. Dretphi watches from the kitchen area, and studies the maneuvers and methods upon the screen.

The life bars dwindle down to the near ends at equal rates. The power meters fluctuate wildly. The characters attack and defend in sync with each other. Only minute gaps of proficiency allow for any opportunity to gain ground. A smug smirk emerges upon Bach’s face and he chuckles to himself darkly. Cideeda’s furry ear perks over and her stare tightens with her anticipation. On the screen under the “Ionis” name label, the man clad in form fitting blue, electric armor slams his fist into the ground, and sends a shockwave of electricity along the floor. Under the “Tataelee” side of the battle, the fvalian woman in a fanciful ninja attire leaps over the front of the arcing burst. Bach quickly taps out a fast series of buttons and grins eagerly. Ionis drops his fist down again, and another flow of power coasts lightning fast across the wake of the previous wave. The second shockwave overtakes Tataelee and knocks her to the ground in a spark swarmed slump. Sebastian grins proudly and nods to his brother. Bach laughs with a confident air and commands Ionis on the screen. “Stunned and low on power... What can you do?”

Ionis widens his stance, brings his hands close together, and pulls back. Ambient electricity from the area arcs out in chaotic flows towards him, and travels to a growing, bright blue white orb of power. Cideeda’s emerald green eyes search the battlefield, pull in all the information possible, and settle upon her character's gradually increasing power meter. She ponders briefly and cracks a sly, hopeful smile. “I don’t know... What can YOU do?”

Bach lifts a puzzled but amused eyebrow, and laughs. “Oh... This.”

Ionis flings his arms forward, hands open and wrists touching. A brilliant blue white beam launches out towards Tataelee. In the splinters of time before the energy column blazes through Tataelee, she disappears in a puff of smoke leaving behind a cheap dummy of herself that quickly disintegrates in an explosion of flame. Bach’s blue eyes widen in sharp realization. In the narrow moment, his gaze shifts from the destroyed decoy up to Tataelee’s power bar. He begins to comprehend the implications of a freshly zeroed energy meter and an unchanged life gauge. Cideeda presents wide, toothy grin, and feverishly taps out a series of clacking buttons on her game controller. Tataelee fades in from the shadows of the game background behind Ionis while stuck performing his super move. Bach’s jaw drops and he gawks in astonishment, barely able to utter a word. “Oh.”

Tataelee grapples Ionis from behind, shifts her weight around, and power kicks Ionis high up into the air. She launches up immediately above Ionis midair, releases a mighty spinning kick down, and plants him into the dirt with a dramatic descent and cratering impact. The game animations slow down, the music changes to a character matching victory tune, and the announcer blares out. “K! O! Winner, Tataelee!”

Sebastian breaks out into half-hearted, commiserating laughter at Bach. “Holy shit! Aww, that’s rough, bro. But, I warned you she was pretty awesome with Tataelee.”

Bach blinks as the rest of his brain catches up with the dramatic situation flip. “Uh... Yeah. Damn. You got just enough for a decoy swap right then.”

Wagging her tail in contended victory, Cideeda smiles with a bit of relief as the tension fades from the match. “Yep. I saw the rate it was increasing, and got ready to trigger it when I could. Preloaded it in the combo system and hit the last button before the move buffer timeout happened.”

She reaches out her hand to Bach and waits. Bach nods in agreement, shakes with Cideeda, and sighs in astonishment. “Wow. Nice game. Did you ever go to any competitions?”

Cideeda stretches her arms out, curls her back in a stretch, and shrugs. “A few local ones, but nothing too serious. I mean, I probably had enough skill to maybe make it mid way through, but those pro players get a bit scary for me.”

She grins toothily and chuckles to herself with a sigh. “It didn’t seem like a good return on my investment to go to that level.”

A greedy glint in her emerald eyes, Cideeda flexes her clawed fingers and rolls her shoulders. “Anyway... I made plenty of easy money from stomping all the wannabe pro players in the neighborhood when they wandered in the comic book shop I worked at.”

She gazes to Bach with a sly, devious smile, and giggles as she works the controller through the game menus. “Always got a kick out of the ones that looked like they wanted to cry afterwards.”

Dretphi smirks in amusement and slowly shakes her head. “My poor brothers. Did not anticipate you.”

An evil grin slips out onto Cideeda’s face, and she rolls her eyes at herself as she directs her voice towards Dretphi in the kitchen area. “They challenged me. I delivered. What can I say?”

Nodding in complete agreement with a smile, Dretphi resumes cleaning up another section of counter top with a rag. “Nothing to say. We all saw the challenge. They received what they deserved. Thank you for educating them.”

Cideeda smiles toothily and nods victorious. “Anytime.”

Bach twists his mouth in ill humor, shakes his head with a roll of his eyes, and scratches the back of his head. “So... Your boss was okay with you running a betting operation out of his store?”

Cideeda snorts with a laugh, and nods with a grit of her teeth. “Oh yeah. It brought in customers. Officially, we billed them as free tournaments with prizes... But, we had a secret system for where the real action was happening.”

She winks to Bach with a smirk. “And, my boss got a percentage of all action. So, he was PERFECTLY fine with it all.”

Sotalia taps Bach’s shoulder, holds her hand out, and hems with an anticipating grin. “My turn?”

Bach passes the game controller over to Sotalia, slides over to the middle seat on the couch, and glances ahead at the television. Sotalia excitedly sits down, settles into the cushions, and mulls over the character selection screen. “So, Bach, who should I use against her?”

Twisting his face in thought, Bach indecisively ponders the options on the display and glances over to Sotalia with a shrug. “I don’t know. I thought Ionis would be a good one to keep Tataelee from working too many of her ninja arts. But...”

Cideeda arches her brow curiously and smugly at Sotalia. “Choose whoever you like... I’ll beat them all the same.”

Sotalia perks her gaze briefly over to Cideeda, smirks, and playfully mutters a quick string of phrases in a dialect of fvalian. Cideeda’s tail twitches. She eyes Sotalia with a chuckle, clicks a button on her controller, and replies in kind to Sotalia with a similar dialect of fvalian. Bach’s blank stare bounces to either side between Cideeda and Sotalia, and he sinks back into the couch cushions to position himself out of the line of fire.

Sebastian slowly shakes his head, glances over to the tabletop of tablets and paperwork, and notices an alert on notification on a screen. “Hey, dear, looks like you got a message or something.”

Aristespha snaps out of her concentration daze, blinks around to survey the table, and picks up the tablet in question. “Oh. Thank you, Sebastian.”

She unlocks the tablet with a code, navigates through the user interface, and opens up the prompt into an aethermail application. As she quickly reads the short message, she cocks her head curiously to the side and glances over to Sebastian. “Interesting. The guild sent us an alert about a job nearby.”

Sebastian furrows his brow briefly, thinks to himself for a moment, and cranes his head over to get a glimpse of the screen. “Okay... Must be similar to stuff we’ve done lately if they are pinging us about it. Not used to them alerting us first.”

Aristespha nods in agreement, tugs at the corner of her mouth, and taps through interface screens to a guild app. “Yes. I have heard that the guild will try to alert groups in an area they think can get a particular job done, upon request of the client. And, we have been in the area for a while, and have done plenty of jobs successfully.”

While pondering the past, Sebastian settles his suspicions and analyzes the mission post on the tablet. “Yeah... That’s true. We’ve never really been in one area that long in the past... And, we were kind of focused on one thing... So, what do we have?”

Aristespha’s violet eyes trace the words on the screen, and she mulls over the potential assignment. “It seems like an initial exploration quest. A small, old ruin site with a single entry archway that’s been sealed off with barrier until recently. No other obvious signs of activity. Verified from aerial photography.”

Sebastian leans his transparent form close to the screen as Aristespha props it up for him to read. “Yeah. Everything says it’s just been left alone for at least a hundred years and left that way. I bet it was too well hidden and by the time it was found the Doctrine of Dormancy was in full effect.”

Aristespha slowly nods as she scrolls up the guild brief on the tablet and rocks her head side to side in deliberation. “Plausible. It is still strange that just now opened up.”

Shrugging his ethereal shoulders and holding his hands out to the sides, Sebastian nonchalantly smiles and laughs lightly. “Something that old? If anything, the power probably finally went out.”

With a long sigh, Aristespha leans back into her seat at the dining table, stretches her neck out, and gazes lovingly at Sebastian. “So, Sebastian... Should we bid on it before everyone else does?”

Sebastian calls out to rest of the team and glances over the area. “Any of you against doing a little ruin exploration tomorrow? We got notification of a job to check out a site. Some old ruin had a barrier preventing entry and it’s gone now.”

Dretphi walks over from the kitchen, studies the guild job post as Aristespha angles the tablet towards her, and twists her mouth as she states out loud the key points. “Nearby. Acceptable pay. No past reported problems. No other recent activity. Cursory inspection only.”

She gradually musters up a nod, and turns to Sebastian. “I have no problems with the task.”

Bach gazes over from the couch, fights a mix of past experiences upon his face, and sighs. “Maybe? Just haven’t had the best of luck at exploring ruins lately.”

Cideeda taps in a few quick combos onto the game controller, watches Tataelee on screen piledriver Ionis into the dirt, and glances away from the victory screen towards Sebastian. “Yeah. I have to agree there.”

She gazes over to Bach with a sly smile. “But, if it’s only an initial check of the area, we probably won’t get that far in there before running into another sealed door. Then, we take a pictures, confirm the state it’s now in, and go home early with full day’s pay.”

Sotalia grumbles out of her frustration at the game, rolls her shoulders out, and turns her head towards the discussion. “So no signs of anyone trying to crack it open? Strange. The barrier probably just ran out of power.”

Sebastian nods towards Sotalia. “Yeah. That’s what I was thinking.”

Bach’s attention turns inwards and he searches his mind for a few seconds. He gradually nods and voices his opinion. “Probably something to do with the maelstroms that were in the area. But, it might be good to check it out. Given a certain someone’s habit of stirring up old ruins in the area...”

Aristespha blinks as she twists in her chair to look around to Bach, and mulls over the idea. “Previously undisturbed ruin of no known importance being opened up randomly... That indeed does sound familiar.”

Everyone exchanges dutiful expressions that lead to an eventual acceptance. Sebastian musters up a proud smile to everyone else. “Well, if there’s no major objections, we’ll put the bid in and spend the afternoon getting ready.”

Samantha slowly paces across the floor in the small bedroom towards the windowed doors leading to the balcony. She pauses at the doorway, crosses her arms, and grumbles to herself. “Damn it. We need something else to carry us to the next big job. But, there’s no small jobs right now.”

Gerald glances over his shoulder from his chair at the desk, switches out data cartridges in a camera, and twists his mouth in thought. “Yeah. That storm with all the maelstrom cells really helped us out get some material for the episode. But, I don’t think a clip episode will keep the ratings going.”

Groaning out her frustrations, Samantha pivots, tosses back her brown hair, and sighs with a grit of her teeth. “We need some kind of drama... Some kind of upset... Gods dammit, Veevi! You need to get your manipulative bitch self into high gear.”

Rolling his eyes and shaking his head, Gerald snorts as he returns his attention to the equipment on his desk and frowns. “Well, it’s NOT from lack of trying. That’s for certain. I thought Trakenthin was going to cane her for a second there. And, Modoran keeps on giving her the slip… Which makes for great comedy clips.”

Samantha sneers her upper lip briefly, searches her mind, and shrugs her shoulders in a modest acceptance. “Yeah, that clip of her grabbing the crotch of the towel dummy has made it’s way around the fan forums pretty quickly. Lucky that living room camera caught it even in the dark.”

Gerald grins proudly and chuckles to himself. “Howard might hate the budget costs, but battery backup and night vision features pay for themselves in moments like that.”

Pulling out her aetherphone, Samantha slowly slides through her contact list on the screen and glances over to Gerald. “Speaking of Howie... I think we need to contact him and see what he thinks.”

Gerald rocks his head side to side indecisively, eyes over to Samantha, and sighs in eventual agreement. “Yeah. We need to figure out a plan now, so the crews can be where they need to be.”

Samantha taps an entry in her contact list, and the phone flips between prompts as it dials out. After a few seconds, the call connects and Samantha rests the phone on the desk. From the aetherphone, Howard’s plotting voice sounds out into the room. “Hello?”

With a happy chime in her voice, Samantha speaks towards the device. “Hi, Howie! I hope we didn’t wake you up. I know Sunday is your recovery day and all.”

A humored chuckles echoes out from the other side of the conversation and Howard dons an amused tone. “Actually, you didn’t. I actually woke up at a decent hour. Even had breakfast at the proper time.”

Samantha perks a playfully astonished brow and giggles with a sly smile. “Good gods... What was the occasion?”

A long sigh sounds out from the speakerphone and Howie mumbles out with a bit of embarrassment. “It’s mother’s birthday and I took her out to her favorite breakfast place. After I get a few things taken care of, I’ll be taking her and the family out to dinner tonight.”

Gerald glances over to the phone and tilts his head curiously. “Oh. Where to? Somewhere fancy?”

Howard remains silent for a moment and laughs loudly. “No. Not really. As per her request... And maintaining family tradition, we will be dining at the illustrious... Draco-Burger.”

Samantha blinks blankly in shock, slowly aims her bewildered stare upon her aetherphone, and takes a few steps closer to voice her incredulous retort. “Really, Howie? Draco-Burger?”

With a mildly annoyed tone, Howard’s voice addresses the issue firmly. “Yes. It’s a long running family tradition for big birthdays. This particular Draco-Burger will actually reserve a huge section for the entire family. Her, my grandmother, and my relatives love the casual gathering... It distracts all the kids for long enough... And, it’s the cheapest I’ll be able to feed them all for.”

He clears his throat, draws a long breath in, and regains control of the conversation. “Anyway... I’m glad you called me, because there is something I need to discuss with you two.”

Samantha lifts an intrigued brow and shifts her weight onto another foot. “Would it happen to be about something to do before the next job?”

A dark chuckle sounds out from the phone into the room, and Howard’s tone brightens. “Yes! I see you two saw the same issue I saw, too. And, I’ve got a solution!”

Gerald looks up to Samantha’s curious face, and stares apprehensively at the aetherphone on the desk. “And, that would be?”

Howard’s satisfaction resonates out from the speakerphone and his plotting cadence hints at potential. “Trakenthin’s surprise will arriving in town... Tomorrow.”

Samantha’s eyes open widen in surprise and she leans over closer to the phone. “Really?! You think it’ll give us what we need for the next episode?”

Howard’s sly amusement leaks out into the room with Samantha and Gerald. “Oh, yes. I plan on making it the main focus.”

Gerald twists his mouth, crosses his arms, and dons a dubious gaze between the aetherphone and Samantha. “So... When the hell are you going to reveal this surprise? I mean, I’m going to need to know at least the WHEN, much less the WHAT.”

With a calculated tone, Howard simply replies. “He will be arriving at their doorstep, Tuesday.”

Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia push through overgrowth along an old, barely visible path. The trail empties out into a small area in front of the a large stone and steel meshed archway opposite of the team. Aristespha gazes up from her tablet, eyes the image on the screen, and compares it to the huge entrance across the clearing. “It looks just like the pictures.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form drifts back onto the ground, and slowly pivots to scan the area. “Okay. Here’s the plan. They’ve only asked for an initial inspection of the place. So, we don’t need to check in depth for anything. So, go in as far as we can without breaking into any sealed off area, and take a bunch of pictures.”

He pans his examining stare across the perimeter of the forest surrounding the grassy area, and twists his mouth apprehensively. “So... Before we barge on in there, let’s check the outside for signs of anything going in or out, first.”

The team fans out into the clearing, and carefully progresses in methodical searches of the area. Dretphi steps out a few meters, narrows her gaze around the vicinity, and aims her attention downwards. She taps her heavy boots onto the flat dirt, judges what she feels, and kneels down. Her gauntlet covered hands dig into the loose, rocky soil, and she sifts through the material in her hands. Underneath the grassy top covering, a mixture of dirt, gravel, and asphalt leftover rains down from Dretphi’s fingers back onto the ground near the fresh, shallow hole. Sebastian drifts down from above and lands next to Dretphi. “Find something?”

Dretphi brushes her hands upon the soft under armor between the hard plates, stands back up, and nods in thought. “Yes. Curious why there was a clearing here. Asphalt underneath the dirt kept trees from taking deep root.”

Sebastian ponders the information and glances over to Dretphi curiously. “Any idea how long this thing has been sitting here?”

With a slight frown, Dretphi lifts up the full visor on her helmet, crosses her arms, and sighs uncertainly. “At least as long as the report says. Would not be surprised if older. This build up took time.”

Drifting back up in the air, Sebastian nods appreciatively and glances over towards Cideeda walking the perimeter. “Okay. I’m going to check to see if Cideeda’s found anything on that side.”

Dretphi points over to the side opposite of Cideeda and waits for Sebastian’s attention. “I will inspect that side.”

Sebastian gives a quick thumbs up to Dretphi, and floats slowly over in the direction of Cideeda while surveying the area from above. Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia stand in the middle of the clearing and stare at the archway. Aristespha blinks her glowing violet eyes, cocks her head to the side, and glances down at her tablet. “This is an interesting design. I’ve seen similar, though. I think this would date it at least right after the Second Period? Maybe at the very end?”

Sotalia squints her dimly lit, golden eyes for a second before closing them hard. The illumination fades, and she focuses upon the rusted out and weather worn sign on a bent up post. Quirking her brow, she rests her hands on her hips, and snorts in mild frustration. “Yeah. The few remaining letters that on that sign would put it roughly in that time period. But, it’s really strange to see that language here.”

Bach narrows his gaze upon the sign, eyes over to Sotalia, and inquires. “So what does it say exactly?”

Sotalia crosses her arms, sighs with a twist to her mouth, and slowly shakes her head. “All that I can make out is Storage Bunker. There was probably more on the missing parts of the sign.”

With a gradual nod, Bach grumbles and grits his teeth briefly. “Yeah... Anyway, what’s so strange out that language being here?”

Aristespha shifts her focus upon the sign, narrows a growing glare, and growls to herself. “It’s an earlier variant of the language the Dark Evuukians adopted as their own.”

Bach and Sotalia aim their inquisitive expressions at Aristespha and wait. After long irritated sigh, Aristespha rolls the anxiety out of her shoulders, and presents an unamused smirk to Bach and Sotalia. “Officially, they never left that doomed city of theirs. But, it seems before their whole society imploded, they had plans to expand.”

Sotalia lifts an apprehensive brow, leans her stance back in surprise, and motions towards the archway. “You don’t think there’s anything left over from them in there?”

Aristespha rolls her eyes and shakes her head with a long exhale. “Oh, gods no. In all likelihood, they built the structure and it was left abandoned long enough for someone else to use.”

Bach stares off into the deep dark past the archway and glances over uncomfortably at Aristespha with an awkward smile. “Yeah. That doesn’t make me feel that much better about it.”

Presenting a confident smile, Aristespha points up to the mix of stone, modern materials, and magical markings on the entrance way. “The Dark Evuukians stuck to strict magical mechanisms, so someone added this after they were gone.”

Sotalia shrugs her shoulders, contorts her face in thought, and tilts her head to the side. “And who would do that and why would they not get rid of the sign?”

Bach scratches his head, aims his gaze at a very prominent landmarks in the area, and points out a few features. “Well... If you were looking at this from the distance, you would think it was just some abandoned hole in the side of a hill. Maybe some old survival bunker? I mean, unless you were really bored or knew this place was here, you weren’t going to just stumble upon it. So, why do anything to make it stick out more?”

The trio of mages stand for a minute and slowly inspect the archway from their distance. Bach sneers his upper lip uneasily, and sighs. “Yeah... Thinking about it... THAT doesn’t make me feel any better about this place. Now there’s intent behind it all.”

Sebastian drifts down and lands behind the mages, walks around to Aristespha’s side, and eyes the darkness beyond the gateway. “So? Any more info about what we’re dealing with, dear?”

Aristespha smiles to Sebastian, indecisively mulls the situation over, and taps through a few menus on her tablet. “Not particularly, Sebastian. Apart from the fact the archway seems relatively undisturbed, except for that scorching on the top the matches the recent pictures.”

While Sebastian peeks over Aristespha’s shoulder, Cideeda and Dretphi rejoin the group. Cideeda adjusts her vest, stretches her arms out over her head, and flicks her furry ears. “No signs of anything moving in or out from my side.”

Dretphi nods in agreement and gestures towards one side of the clearing perimeter. “Nothing on my side. No disturbances in the underbrush. No oddly broken branches. No fresh paths through the overgrowth.”

Sebastian hums ethereally to himself, stares ahead towards the entrance, and floats a few meters towards the archway in front of the group. He stops, pivots around, and shrugs his shoulders with his hands out to his sides. “Well, I guess there’s only one way to find out. Let’s head inside. I’ll scout ahead. Cideeda and Dretphi will be on point. Aristespha and Sotalia will maintain the middle. And, Bach, keep an eye behind us.”

With shared unease and foreboding, the team assembles into their march order, turn on their lights, and slowly cross the threshold into the dark hallway leading deeper inside.

Down a long, dim corridor, open sliding doors line the old walls. As the team searches around, flashlights shine out along the hallway, magical glows illuminate the immediate area around the team, and small orbs of light drift to surfaces. Aristespha peers around the metal door frame into a room, casts the light from her magical orb inside, and slowly inspects the contents from a distance. “This one seems like an office. Relatively good condition given how long it has been sitting.”

She holds up her tablet in front of her, aims the rear camera inside, and taps the screen. A brief flash floods the room with light and then fades immediately. Dretphi guides the aim of her flashlight along the corridor and twists her mouth puzzling. “Simple design for this place. One main corridor. Have yet to run into another large branch. Just opened doors.”

Cideeda sniffs the air, sways her head in an attempt to track the smell, and frowns slightly. “There’s that smell again. I can’t quite pick it out. It just seems to be everywhere.”

Bach glances up, points to a charred spot on support structures underneath cabling above in the ceiling, and furrows his brow curiously. “You think it might be the leftover funk from these spots?”

Aiming her bright light up, Cideeda guides the flashlight around, tracks a few paths, and indecisively rocks her head side to side. “There’s definitely a smell for those. But, this... This smell feels familiar.”

Bach’s eyes illuminate blue and he narrows his stare at the thick conduits running through the supports above. “There still some residual magical energy on these lines. I guess whatever happened was pretty recent.”

Sotalia adjusts the aim of her aetherphone’s camera, taps the on screen button, and waits outside another room. The flash reflects off of various research implements and light glints off of several magical apparatuses. Sotalia rests her hands on her hips, twists her mouth in thought, and tosses her head of fiery orange, wavy hair to the side. “This room had to of been a magical research lab. It has all the usual tools. Surprising how they haven’t changed that much over the years.”

Sebastian drifts down the dark hallway, pauses to peek into another opposing pair of open sliding doors, and thoughtfully scratches his chin. “Okay, what’s everyone’s guess as to what this place actually was? I’m leaning towards a survival bunker of some kind. One of those that has everything to rebuild society.”

Aristespha slows to a stop, and pivots in place as her mind processes the information. “This might be my personal bias, but I think it was a research facility, Sebastian. You have a mix administrative offices, along with labs.”

Sotalia lifts a brow inquisitively towards Aristespha, and smirks slightly. “Magical research lab, maybe?”

Dretphi inspects the frame to one of the sliding doors, carefully analyzes the support wall, and hums in contemplation. “Military depot. The doors for the storage rooms are reinforced. We have found guard posts. Empty armories. Barracks.”

Slowly nodding agreement as the pieces fit in his mind, Bach crosses his arms with an uneasy, awkward smile. “Military something. It’s like they only had one kind of door for everything in this place, and it was heavy and armored. Even the janitor’s storage had a door that looked like it could take a rocket launcher.”

Cideeda points up towards many cameras and other monitoring devices sitting dark and inactive. “Well, they were doing something worth the security coverage.”

She steps by another open door, halts immediately, and sniffs the air carefully. She wafts over the stale air from the door, smells it cautiously, and ponders the aroma. Her emerald eyes widen in recognition, and she slowly pivots to face the rest of the team with a very uncertain expression. “Okay... I know I’ve smelled this before. It’s faint, but this odor reminds me of the ruin with the cybernetic zombies.”

The rest of the group exchanges uneasy looks, cautiously searches the immediate vicinity, and share a very similar sentiment. Eventually, they group back up and start to venture further down the dark corridor, deeper into the facility.

Following the huge overhead bundle of conduits within the ceiling supports, the team reaches a T intersection and the main junction point of the thick power lines. Reaching the center point, the group shifts focus down one path. Down the hallway, the faint glow of an emergency light escapes through an open heavy, sliding door. After surveying the open doorway, the team shifts focus over down the other passage. Expressions turn towards the curious, apprehensive, and cautious upon seeing the massive, heavily reinforced, and securely sealed double doors. Dretphi cocks her head back warily upon seeing the unusual doors, and glances over the rest of the team. “That is strange. This is the only closed door. Every other door has been opened.”

Cideeda flicks her furry ears around, twists her mouth apprehensively, and narrows a stare at the huge double security doors. “Yeah. That is really strange. Especially given that this one is of a completely different design from the others.”

Sebastian hovers out in front of the group, contorts his face uncertainly, and sighs ethereally over his shoulder to the team. “Well, as much as I don’t want to get too close to something like that. We need to at least check to make sure the doors are securely locked... and there’s no immediate threat to us or anyone else in the area.”

Understanding but reserved expressions emerge upon the group, and they ready themselves to approach. Slowly and methodically, the group closes in on the massive double doors and carefully fan out inspecting the gateway in their own ways. Aristespha and Bach both illuminate their eyes in magical radiance, and study the doorway. Aristespha tilts her head to the side curiously, and lifts an inquisitive brow. “I’m not seeing anything blatant, but there seems to be a good deal of old traces of some kind of enchantment on the join between the two doors.”

Bach grits his teeth and contorts an uneasy frown. “Yeah. I’m seeing that, too. I’d put my money that is was some kind of sealing or locking enchantment. Which... Doesn’t make this situation feel any better...”

Cideeda steps forward upon the concrete and metal floor, kneels down in front of a large vented panel, and shines her flashlight through the grates. “So what do we have going on here... Oh...”

She cranes her head around to find the best viewing angles into the cavity beyond the panel through the venting, and narrows her emerald green eyes as her ears perk. “That’s really strange... Okay, now THAT is really strange.”

The group congregates closer to Cideeda and gaze on trying to see her discoveries. Cideeda notices the team looming nearby, points out a few key things, and explains with a puzzled tone. “The hydraulics for this big thing are on THIS side of the wall. Even the control lines. Which isn’t something you do if you want to keep from going IN.”

Sebastian blinks to attention, stares at the huge metal double doors, and carefully drifts closer. He glances at the group and puts forth a brave smile. “Well, let’s see if I can get a peek at what’s on the other side?”

The group agrees and Sebastian phases through one door, disappearing inside. A minute later, he slowly emerges from the doorway, paler than his usual normal ethereal self. He gathers his thoughts at the prompting stares from the group, releases a nervous ghostly exhale, and points a thumb over his shoulder at the gateway. “Okay... It was really dark in there... But, I did make out a HUGE fluid filled tank that could fit our humvee in it... And SOMETHING floating in there.”

He releases another long ethereal breath, mulls over his feelings about the situation, and gazes over the group. “I couldn’t make out exactly what it was... And I REALLY didn’t want to get close to it... Just in case.”

In the moments following the explanation, a silence looms over the team. Seconds later, an unspoken agreement occurs, and they collectively, slowly move far away from the heavy, reinforced doors. Once at the intersection point, Aristespha lifts her tablet up and takes a picture without using the flash. The team orientates itself in the opposite direction and head down the hallway to the open room with dim emergency light. Peering inside through the door way, the team angles their gazes to look upon all the partially working control consoles and barely functional generators. With a few beeps and chimes, the group spots a bank of operational computer equipment giving constant updates, warnings, and alerts about the current status of the facility. Cideeda directs her voice towards Sebastian and inquires in an affirmative tone. “I think it would be best if we investigated this room at bit more?”

Sotalia crosses her arms, nods in complete agreement, and eyes Sebastian. “Yeah. It’d be nice to at least see what was going on here and maybe figure out what else we need to be on the lookout for.”

Sebastian slowly nods with a smirk, and hovers into the control room. “After what I saw, I can’t argue with that sentiment. We should probably figure out if we need to call in the army or something, or if everything is going to stay roughly this way.”

The team files in, fans out, and starts searching the room for more clues.

Hovering within the dark hallway down from the intersection, Sebastian stares out down the opposing corridor and sneers uncomfortably at the darkness leading towards the heavy, suspicious double doors. He crosses his arms and watches the spot of light from Dretphi’s submachine gun accessory methodically travel from one edge of view to another. Dretphi squints her steely gray eyes behind her full visor, and twists her mouth with hints of anxiety leaking through her stoic facade. Sebastian’s ethereal form rolls his shoulders, releases a long sigh, and glances over to Dretphi. “You doing okay? Need to rotate out for a bit?”

Dretphi blinks to attention, makes eye contact with Sebastian, and dons an appreciative smile. “I am okay. I can continue to stand watch. Just wish we could get the information we need soon.”

Sebastian nods, returns his stare down the shadow blackened hallway, and grumbles. “I’m with you on that one. We’re probably going well beyond what we need to do. But, I think we need to give the guild the info they need to send the right forces out to deal with this potential mess.”

He briefly grits his teeth, crosses his arms, and glances over to Dretphi with a sarcastic tone. “You know... Let them know how many tanks they need to bring to take out whatever that thing is.”

Dretphi searches the top of her mind for a second, shifts her weight to the other foot, and mulls a thought out loud. “Tanks would work. My house father would recommend detonating explosives to collapse the entire front of the entry corridor. No need for an encounter.”

Sebastian thinks to himself for a moment, slowly agrees, and resumes his watch of the dark corridor across the intersection. “Yeah. Honestly, at this point, I would do the same and just have our report say we found it that way.”

Dretphi twists her mouth in deliberation, but eventually settles to a slow nod. “Simple solution. Pity we do not have enough explosives.”

A dry smirk appears on Sebastian face, and he chuckles lightly. “Don’t let Cideeda hear that, she’ll think of it as a challenge.”

Pivoting partially to gaze into the nearby room at the end of dimly light hallway, Dretphi smiles and checks on the activity in the emergency light illuminated area. “A challenge I wish we could attempt.”

Inside the control room, Cideeda checks on her shotgun propped up against the computer console bank, returns her focus to the constantly scrolling alerts and messages on a screen, and bites her lip as she tries to decipher it. Bach sits in a chair next to Cideeda’s, and stares an informational graphic of the power system flashing sections with prompts. He scratches his bearded chin, hums in thought, and eyes over to Cideeda. “I don’t know... It seems to be prioritizing power to something at the expense of everything else.”

Cideeda grits her teeth, taps her finger tips together on both hands, and grimaces as her ears lower. “It’s GOT to be that damned area beyond those ridiculous double doors. From what I can figure out so far, this system is redirecting power from EVERYTHING else to keep that area saturated in power.”

She points a claw tip at a long log list on the screen, taps through the entries, and shakes her head. “It looks like this thing was frantically trying to balance power around to all these other systems, then just gave up and stuck to just one.”

Cringing uneasily, Cideeda directs Bach’s attention over to another screen showing a slowly descending graph line against a constant line of another color. “This worries me. If what we’ve translated is correct, then this line is the power output from some generator. We’ve got maybe a day before it drops below the demand.”

Bach grimaces, shudders briefly, and glances over to Aristespha and Sotalia. “Yeah... That’s not a good margin to work with. Any more luck with those manuals and documents?”

Aristespha carefully flips through another set of pages in an old binder and slowly shakes her head with a frown. “Nothing that would seem useful for the power system. Still finding daily memos and written orders.”

Stacking another old book upon a pile nearby, Sotalia brushes her hands off on her cloak, cleans off a bit of cobweb on her horn, and sighs with shift of her stance. She retrieves her aetherphone, navigates through a few menus, and sorts through a series of photos taken of the facility. With an uneasy frown, her golden eyes recognize elements in the pictures in a new light. “I get the feeling we were all correct in some way. This place seems like some kind of strange cybernetic, biological, and magical research base for military applications. At least, that’s what half these documents keep hinting at.”

With a long uncomfortable sigh, Aristespha nods in agreement, puts another binder in her backpack, and closes it up. “Yes. I have to agree. And, given recent events, I’m not too terribly keen on sticking around here for much longer.”

Cideeda stands up from her chair, brushes of the dust from the back of her tight body suit, and throws the carrying strap of her shotgun over her shoulder. “Yeah. I think we have all the information we need. Let’s get out of here and call someone with some serious firepower.”

Sotalia releases a sigh of relief, stuffs a few choice books in large pockets inside her cloak, and walks towards the door of the room. “Don’t have to tell me twice.”

Bach and Aristespha head out the exit with Cideeda and Sotalia. The four meet up quickly with Dretphi and Sebastian. After studying their expressions, Sebastian quirks a curious brow at the group. “So, what’s the consensus?”

Bach grins awkwardly and shrugs his shoulders with a facetious tone. “Well... This place is creepy as fuck and we want to go home.”

Sebastian snorts, and nods quickly. “Sounds good to me, bro. I think we’ve done all we can... and all we probably should.”

As the team faces towards the center of the intersection-

A sharp, mechanical thunk resonates from some place beyond the power control room nearby. The emergency light flickers, and faint arcing and sparking vibrates through the structure of the building, originating from the dark corridor and behind the secure double doors. Suddenly, the corridors light up in emergency lighting and klaxons blare out. The team frantically surveys their immediate situation, and searches for answers. Cideeda leans over to get a glimpse inside the control room and watches a the screens chaotically spew forth new information alerts. An electronic voice sounds out over the intercom system and echoes out through the facility. Sotalia listens carefully, looks to Aristespha, and translates, growing more worried with each word. “Lockdown failure?... Lab... stasis field... generators... malfunction?! Oh gods... Am I understanding that correctly?”

Aristespha’s light complexion pales more as her understanding of the voice coincides with Sotalia’s. “Yes. Unfortunately so.”

Sebastian gazes over the team wide eye, points down the hallway, and yells out determined. “Form up, and let’s GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!”

A powerful, thunderous slam rattles the structure of the complex. Dust breaks free from overhead and old rust flakes off support structures. Bach reflexively spouts out in fright. “THE FUCK WAS THAT?!”

Another earth shaking thud shakes the area as something large impacts a solid surface to the resonating groans of metal strain. Sebastian gives the signal and flies out to lead the team towards the intersection. The overhead lights flicker when a massive object rams into a structural piece of the bunker. At the intersection Dretphi’s steely gray eyes widen in utter shock, and she points out down to massive, double doors. “THEY MOVED!”

Hydraulic strain gives away to cacophony of loud spraying as thick fluid gushes out from the vented access panel. The heavy doors crack open... Something moves around from behind, in front of a backdrop of chaotic light... And peers out.