Episode 65

A gentle cast of purple from the long set sun radiates into the living room of the ranch style house. A soft ambient drone of domestic convenience looms in the air, as the refrigerator’s compressor kicks on and the rush of wind filters through the vents of the wall mounted air conditioner. From behind the kitchen door, light, muffled rumbles of machinery rattle as the sectioned metal panels of the garage door open. With a swift turn of the knob, the door swings quickly open. Sotalia steps in, tilts her head back in dramatic wave of relief, and spreads her arms out. “Oh gods... So good to be back here...”

She moves through the kitchen area, slides out a dining room chair, and plops down. Blinking her gold on black eyes, she rolls her neck in a stretch, slacks her shoulders, and relaxes on the seat. “Dessert may have been a bit too much, but I think earned that much.”

Cideeda walks across of the kitchen floor, faints clicks from her claws upon the tile tapping out. Sighing out her relief, she loosens her body suit, and quickly rounds the table into the hallway. “I’m calling first shower! Need to wash the funk of this mission off of me. Surprised no one said anything at the Pancake Shed.”

Sotalia rolls her eyes playfully and smiles. “Oh, you were fine. I think Rekeeka and the rest of the staff could tell we had rough enough day.”

Aristespha nods as she climbs the steps from the garage, turns around when in the kitchen, and smiles encouragingly to Bach. “Your muscles are going to be VERY sore. While I detected no significant damage, you put your body through a lot of strain and it is going to need to heal.”

Bach winces in a mix of sharp pain and frustration as he braces himself on the door frame. Gritting his teeth with each foot step, he manages to travel up the short stairs into the kitchen with Dretphi behind at the ready. He stands idle as the soreness radiates throughout his body, and he settles a worn gaze to Aristespha. “Yeah... It’s REALLY starting to feel like a did week of workouts in a one day... Oww... Gods, I didn’t realize I had muscles in so many places and how badly they could ache.”

Aristespha smirks sympathetically, nods her understanding, and swiftly moves towards the hallway. “Give me a moment, I have a potion that will help soothe your muscles and boost your natural healing.”

Bach plods ahead through the kitchen gradually, vainly tries to work out the aches in his body, and grimaces during the process. “At this point... Ow... I’ll try anything. Because, I think it’s going to feel a whole lot worse before it gets better.”

Dretphi brushes off her under armor suit as she glances at the remaining armor plates in the garage. She keeps close to Bach while he slowly walks. “Do you need help?”

Bach smiles appreciatively with hints of embarrassment, and braces himself upon one of the dining chairs. “Uh... I think I should be good, but I wouldn’t mind someone keeping me from falling flat on my face. Legs are getting real sore and stiff. Thought I was doing okay when we were eating, but it’s hitting me fast.”

Aristespha arrives from the hallway, presents a vial to Bach, and meets his eyes. “This is a particularly potent potion, and it WILL cause drowsiness. So, I wouldn’t take it until you are ready to go to bed for the night.”

Grasping the glass container from Aristespha, Bach observes the colorful, shifting mix inside while curiously tilting it around. “Oh, okay.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form materializes next to Aristespha, and he studies the vial in Bach’s hand. His eyes widen briefly, and he chuckles with an amused smirk. “Oh, THAT stuff. Yeah, that stuff is pretty powerful. Drowsiness is an understatement, bro. It hits me pretty hard.”

Bach squints his eyes at the concoction, blinks the fatigue out of his eyes, and barely shrugs his shoulders. “Honestly, I wouldn’t mind going to bed early. It’s been quite the day, and my fun bucket is really fucking full right now.”

He manages a hearty chuckle, before he winces and his arm covers his side. “Ow... Yeah, I’m going to bed.”

As Bach stiffly steps ahead, Aristespha catches Dretphi’s attention and nods to her. “I’ll have a similar potion for you in a few minutes.”

Dretphi nods thankfully and stays behind Bach with her hands ready to catch him. Bach grimaces with each step down the hallway’s hardwood floors, and plays off the aches lightly laughing. “I know how I’m feeling. But, how are you holding up?”

Deliberating her response, Dretphi smirks slightly and perks an amused brow. “Stretched thin.”

Bach reflexively snorts in a laugh, holds his stomach, and shakes his head slowly. “Ow. Nicely put.”

Opening the door, he plods slowly into the room. He sheds off his scorched duster onto the floor, stands next to his bed, and plops himself upon mattress. A long sigh of relief escapes him and he closes his eyes briefly. “Gods... What a day...”

Dretphi slowly nods agreement, crosses her arms, and quietly thinks to herself for a moment. Bach blinks his eyes open, carefully sits himself up, and gazes over to Dretphi with hints of concern in his voice. “Hey... You doing okay?”

Snapping back to attention, Dretphi glances over with warm smile, and uncertainly rocks her head side to side. “I will need to... process... today.”

Bach sighs and presents an awkward grin back. “Yeah. Definitely going to need to think through all this. Soon. Not before getting some sleep.”

He lifts the potion from Aristespha up in front of him, unscrews the cap, and sniffs the vial. “Let’s see how hard this stuff really hits.”

Tilting the small bottle back, Bach quaffs down the liquid, grimaces briefly at the taste, and screws the lid back on before setting on the nightstand. “Well, that was... not tasty...”

Dretphi smiles warmly with a light chuckle, catches a stray thought in her mind, and presents it inquiringly. “I have a question.”

Bach settles back down upon the bed, slowly stretches out upon the top, and rests his head on the pillow before gazing to Dretphi. “Okay, what’s the question?”

Pondering out her query cautiously, Dretphi asks and watches Bach’s expression. “Why did you not blast the beast with energy? Would it not have been simpler?”

Searching his mind, Bach sheepishly grins and averts his eyes briefly. “Well... Yeah... But... I didn’t want to... Let you go.”

He sighs deeply, lays out his thoughts, and fights off a yawn. “To be honest... I barely had anything under control. If I was going to do anything with what had, I wanted make sure you were safe. It may have not been the optimal solution... But, it’s the one I know I could live with.”

Dretphi blinks in surprise, bows her head down, and speaks warmly. “Thank you. Bach.”

Bach briefly opens his eyes against the drowsiness, yawns, and smiles. “You’re welcome. You’re worth it. Just forgive me if I’m... Not eager to run laps anytime... Soon...”

A faint blush of pink fills Dretphi’s cheeks. She mulls over a thought, lifts her head up, and starts to open her mouth. A snore halts her, and she studies the sleeping Bach, momentarily confused. After a few seconds, she smirks and giggles quietly to herself. Stepping over to the end of the bed, she grabs hold of Bach’s boot, and gently tugs upon it. Bach stirs briefly in slumber, and mutters incoherently. Dretphi pulls and shakes a bit harder. Bach’s fatigue securely keeps him sleeping, only squirming a bit in defiance. Quirking an intrigued brow, Dretphi gazes over Bach and sighs with a kind smile. She curiously eyes Bach, unstraps his boots loose, and pulls the footwear off. While Bach continues to slumber, Dretphi contemplates the bed covers underneath the sleeping man. She carefully rolls Bach onto his side, pushes the sheets under, and guides him over the opposite way momentarily. With a swift motion, she drapes the covers over Bach, and tucks him in.

Gazing at the slumbering Bach, Dretphi gently brushes his long hair out of his face, holds her hand on his beard covered cheek, and watches him gently snore. She softly pats his face, smiles warmly, and steps quietly on her under armor covered feet, out of the room. With a flick of the light switch, she pulls the door closed and walks down the hallway. Sebastian’s ethereal form drifts down the passage and he smirks humored. “Let me guess, it hit him hard, too?”

Dretphi nods simply and smirks. “Yes. In minutes.”

Grinning with the knowledge, Sebastian laughs softly. “I knew it.”

His expression grows more serious and he meets Dretphi’s eyes. “Hey, just wanted to ask how you are feeling. It was quite the day for all of us, and especially you.”

Dretphi frowns momentarily, sighs, and musters up partial smile. “I will need to process it all.”

Sebastian nods understandingly, placing his hands on his sides. “Yeah. I know how that goes. Just remember we’re all here for you, and you shouldn’t think twice about asking any of us for help. We’ll do what we can.”

An appreciative full smile emerges upon Dretphi’s face. “I know. Thank you.”

A sly grin creeps out from the corner of Sebastian’s mouth and he points his thumb over his shoulder towards the archway into the living area. “Now the other reason I’m here is that Sotalia is mixing up some drinks and wanted to know if you wanted to partake.”

Dretphi’s steely gray eyes light up, and she nods eagerly. Sebastian leads the way as Dretphi follows.

Faint traces of very early morning illumination barely contrast against the cold darkness of the room. The outline of an armor stand with an incomplete suit of plating momentarily emerges from the uncomfortable, silent shadows. Dretphi’s steely gray eyes stare widely out into room as she calms her breathing down. She tosses and turns on her bed, settles herself into a workable position, and concentrates on relaxing her body. Muttering comforting logic to herself in grath, she slowly allows her fatigue to guide her to slumber. The moment she drifts off, and her mind kicks her body abruptly awake. Eyes wide in panic, she pants as she rests a hand on her pounding heart. Frustration and fear surge up into a teary mess upon her face. Dretphi sniffs as she rolls over to her side, tightly clenches the sheets, and trembles as her eyes sort through the chaotic thoughts in her head. She struggles to muster any kind of calm as the night surrounding isolates her further into her own frantic state.

A light flicks on out in the hallway and beams into the room from underneath the bedroom door. Bach’s muffled, grumbling voice complains. “...fucking... bright bathroom light...”

The glow dims as another door closes to the hallway. Dretphi sits up on bed, wrapped in the sheets, and stares longingly at the illumination pushing away the surrounding darkness.

Bach opens the bathroom door, steps out into the hallway, and turns around stiffly to fumble for the light switch. Mid rotation, he notices Dretphi peering out from behind her door, and pauses. He blinks to awareness, sighs, and apologetically waves. “Hey. Sorry if I woke you there.”

Dretphi shakes her head, and smiles. “No. It is okay. I was... awake. Why are you up?”

With a slow, careful shrug of the shoulders, Bach awkwardly grins. “Well, going to bed early threw off my sleep schedule a bit. And well, I just can’t convince myself to go back to sleep. Aching muscles and all...”

He looks at Dretphi curiously and returns the question. “What are you doing awake at this hour?”

Dretphi briefly grits her teeth, glances away hesitantly, and fights an avoidant urge. She pauses in thought, and gazes to Bach as she opens the door more. “Yesterday will not leave my mind.”

Bach frowns slightly, ponders a moment, and nods in similar sentiment. “Yeah. Me too. Thoughts are really keeping me awake right now.”

The two share a silent minute, as Bach thinks to himself, and Dretphi wanders off into her head as she idly fidgets with her pajama shirt and shorts. Cracking a smirk, Bach glances over to Dretphi and motions towards the living area archway. “You want to join me and watch some terrible early morning TV? I figured something mindless to watch would be nice. And, I might be more comfortable in the couch chair.”

A smile grows on Dretphi’s tired face and she nods thankfully. “Yes.”

Bach maneuvers rigidly towards the living room with Dretphi following along behind. The two plod over in front of the television. Bach snags the remote off the coffee table and wanders towards the recliner. Dretphi settles along the length of the couch, resting her head on the side next to the recliner. She adjusts a couch pillow underneath her head. Bach eases himself into the chair, and glances over to Dretphi curiously. “By the way, did you take my boots off and tuck me in?”

Dretphi blinks, and awkwardly twists her mouth. “Yes. You fell asleep. Could not wake you easily. Did what I could.”

Bach nods as he reclines back, and points the remote towards the screen. “Oh, okay. Thank you. Was trying to figure that out. That stuff knocked me right out.”

The television flips on with the press of a remote button. After lowering the volume, Bach proceeds to flip through the channels of early morning broadcasts. Eventually, one show contrasts the rest of the entertainment wasteland.

“Next up on Relic Roadshow, famous and infamous episodes marathon...”

Bach glances over to Dretphi. “You okay with Relic Roadshow?”

Dretphi tilts her head up and directs her voice softly. “Yes.”

The two settle their attentions towards the screen and watch items of strange antiquity get evaluated to unexpected prices. Arrogance earns the reward of embarrassingly low values, while humble people realize their unexpected treasures. A sleep deprived, humored Dretphi blurts out softly. “Cannot be worth... much...”

Blinking slowly and fighting off a yawn, Bach smirks with a lift of an eyebrow. “I don’t know. We’ve seen some real garbage get a decent price.”

Dretphi hums in modest agreement, lets her eyes close, and settles into the couch more. Bach stifles a snort and quips as the appraised value appears on the screen. “Really? Huh.”

Groggily opening her eyes, Dretphi glances to the screen and notes the final price. She drifts her gaze over to Bach in the recliner, smiles tired but warmly, and settles her head back on the pillow. “Surprising...”

She closes her eyes fully and allows herself to relax. Minutes later, the end credits for the episode appear on the television. During the intermission between, Bach turns his attention to Dretphi and watches her lay quietly. He slowly folds up the recliner, lifts himself up, and stiffly walks as silently as possible through archway into the hallway. Dretphi cracks an eye open and listens to Bach’s mumbling as he searches through a linen closet. Seconds later, Bach returns with two blankets in hand. He tosses one over to the recliner and opens up the other. Slowly and cautiously, Bach maneuvers around the coffee table, flaps the blanket open, and glides the cover over Dretphi. He pulls the corners around for maximum coverage, and then eases back over to his recliner. Grabbing the blanket, he settles back into the chair, covers himself, and resumes watching Relic Roadshow.

Dretphi stirs slightly. Her hand grips hold of the cover, and she snuggles up in the blanket. Soon she drifts off to slumber with a content smile.

The tall, thin Captain Hackle walks thoughtfully with his arms behind his back and studies the archway barrier sealing off the large entrance at the perimeter of the circular clearing. He pauses a moment to notice the morning sun, glances over to Sergeant Violet with a calm smirk, and lifts an intrigued brow. “So, what is the situation at the present?”

Sergeant Violet flips through a clipboard of paperwork, and recites a few key entries from a collection of notes. “The facility force field is still active after reactivation. It seems to be maintaining strength at the moment, but minor fluctuations have been detected. The adventuring team’s report detailed the state of the facility... and the hostile creature within.”

Captain Hackle nods as he ponders further with each step towards the gathering of Greater Azure Alliance specialists keeping distance from the shielded facility entrance. Sergeant Violet follows dutifully along side Hackle, spots a familiar lanky, half-emin man, and calls out to him. “SPECIALIST THAYAL! Status report!”

Specialist Thayal nearly twists himself back around as he pivots abruptly to salute Sergeant Violet. “God fu- Yes! Sergeant! Barrier is still stable. We have done initial scouting of the area and have not found any other entrances given current knowledge of the structure. A team has been dispatched to use ground penetrating radar and survey magics to properly map out the extent of the structure. We are maintaining safe distance for now.”

Captain Hackle glances over to Sergeant Violet with a humored smirk, and settles his inquiring gaze upon Specialist Thayal. “Good to hear. Any sighting of the creature?”

Specialist Thayal contorts his face and uncertainly grimaces as he eyes over to the facility’s archway barrier. “Nothing confirmed. A few of us believe we saw movement beyond that second golden magical barrier, but it’s been hard to get a good visual going through the force field and that magic barrier.”

He pauses in thought, narrows a curious glance to Captain Hackle, and asks. “Captain, is this the same adventuring group from that one cybernetic research base a few months ago?”

Captain Hackle nods calmly with a smile, chuckles, and steps purposefully closer towards the archway barrier. “Yes it is. And, I see they’ve left quite an impressive feat of their handiwork behind.”

Disappointment washes over Specialist Thayal as mild annoyance appears in his expression. “Yeah... That’s going to take some doing to remove, Captain. It looks way more involved than that last barrier we pulled off.”

Sergeant Violet flips through a few pages of notes, quickly skims over a section of a report, and directs her voice to Captain Hackle. “It says here they constructed the barrier as a means of sealing the creature long enough to explore other more permanent options. They did not know the facility’s systems were going to try to reactivate the archway force field, or even if that was a possibility. They had to evacuate quickly, but felt they needed to make efforts for containment due to the dangerous nature of the creature.”

Captain Hackle’s brown eyes narrow upon a warping mass in the darkness, and he sneers his upper lip, curling his graying mustache. He focuses through the outer energy field, and aims his gaze through an opening in the golden magical barrier. His posture shifts to a rigid, straight and readied stance. He speaks cool and stern to both Sergeant Violet and Specialist Thayal. “I think we’d be wise to leave that barrier in place for now...”

Both Sergeant Violet and Specialist Thayal notice the dramatic shift in the Captain’s tone, and quickly focus their attention towards the strange, distant movement in the unnatural darkness past the golden barrier. Around the furthest gentle bend, a black mass briefly contrasts against the cyclic red glow of emergency lights. In the visible moments, an array of pinpoint crimson eyes peer out down the long corridor, gliding along the featureless body of the beast. Behind Captain Hackle, Sergeant Violet, and Specialist Thayal, a number of other military personnel notice the creature. Tension floods the air as mages ready themselves, and soldiers draw their weapons. Two heavily armored, three meter tall mechs stomp into place as access panels close up and armor surrounds the each pilot in protective layering. Both of the robotic suits raise their arm mounted weaponry and await further orders.

The creature’s form warps and undulates slightly. It’s eyes retreat from view along with the black spherical mass. After a minute, Captain relaxes his posture, exhales a long sigh of relief, and slowly shakes his head. He pivots around, clears his throat, and calls out. “Stand down! It’s not looking for a fight right now. Let us hope it keeps it that way.”

He gazes over to Sergeant Violet and instructs with a calm demeanor. “Please coordinate a rotating watch. Until we have the facility externally mapped, I want to make sure there’s a mage, technician, and someone in a mech ready to act... In case it decides it wants that fight.”

Sergeant Violet nods quickly, salutes Captain Hackle, and dashes off to the other troops. “Yes, Captain!”

Captain Hackle thinks a moment and calls out to Sergeant Violet. “And, tell the drivers to get the trucks with mounted guns up here. Even if it means clearing out a path. We may need such for larger equipment anyway.”

After seeing Sergeant Violet acknowledging his orders, he turns to Specialist Thayal and speaks with determination. “Thayal. We did restock the explosive rounds for the auto cannons on the mechs, correct?”

Specialist Thayal nods and quickly replies. “Oh, yes, Captain.”

Captain Hackle stands up straight, creeps a grin out of the corner of his mouth, and narrows his glare towards the darkness deeper within the facility. “Good. Tell the crews to load up both mechs with those rounds. And, if you run into the explosives crew before I do, send them my way. I need to have a selective conversation with them.”

He frowns slightly and twists his graying mustache to either side of his face. “As much as the higher ups would like access to what is in there, I’d much prefer to keep what terrors sealed in there permanently.”

Upon the table in the dining area of the two-story house, both Deedri and Tassilda sort through magical reagents and other supplies. While Deedri inventories items, her furry ear perks over to the sound of another message chime from Tassilda’s aetherphone. Pausing from her task at the earliest convenience, Tassilda grabs hold of her aetherphone off the tabletop, flips through a few menus, and begins to tap out a response in a messenger application. A smile appears on her face as she rereads the paragraph and double-checks her own reply. Deedri sets aside her work for the moment, gazes over to Tassilda with a sly smile, and inquires. “So, how’s Daedrican doing?”

Tassilda blinks in surprise, glances up from her phone to Deedri, and bites her lower lip with hints of embarrassment. “Oh... Um... He’s set to be released. He’ll be back with the Chrome Crusaders on light duty for a while, until he fully recovers. It sounds like a bunch of paper work filing and doing inventory.”

Deedri smiles happily, and wags her tail. “That’s great news! I’m sure he’ll be happy to get back to work. Did he mention when the group will be heading out?”

A tinge of sadness darkens Tassilda’s mood, and she sighs with a slight slump of her shoulders. “This coming Saturday. He says they’ve got another patrol run to do on the side routes towards Hattan. They’re finishing up repairs on equipment and he’s the last one they are waiting on to be released.”

Noticing Tassilda’s shift in attitude, Deedri leans over with a scheming grin, and speaks in a whisper to Tassilda. “I could stand to stock up on some supplies from clinic. Would you like to join me next time I go?”

Tassilda’s face lights up with an appreciative smile, and she flutters her light blue on black eyes with nod. “Why, of course. How could I turn down such an offer?”

Deedri settles back in her seat with a grin, and resumes sorting through medical supplies. “I’ll make a list and convince Chad to drive us out tomorrow then. You can assist me with properly transporting supplies, after an hour or two.”

Over in the living room through the archway, Chad sits on the couch and studies a number of documents out on the coffee table. He slowly shakes his head as he processes the schedules, itineraries, and other lists of lodging information. “For a resort retreat, this is ridiculously complicated.”

Veevi stretches out on the couch next to Chad, groans dismissively, and lounges playfully. “Tell me about it! Are we ever going to get a chance to actually enjoy the resort?! It just seems like we’re running around from one appearance to another with no break in between. Then, we have to patrol around... Ungh...”

Modoran scans over the paperwork and nods as he ponders the information. “It’s just the resort trying to minimize problems. I get the feeling they’ve hosted this ordeal a few times and know who they are dealing with.”

Chad furrows his brow, glances up to Modoran, and puzzles over the comment. “What makes you say that?”

Sitting down on the floor across from Chad at the coffee table, Modoran points out a few evuukian names and room assignments, and taps out on matching floor maps. “They’re trying to keep all the main houses separated into all the different sections. But... They’ve also placed them in areas where they’d have large enough spas and hot spring pools nearby. That way they won’t be inclined to split up and wander off in smaller groups.”

He places a dusky, bluish gray hand down to rotate the map, compares it to another list of evuukian names, and gradually nods. “Oh yeah. They know who they are dealing with. They’ve put the infamous drinkers close to small side lounges with bars, so they don’t have far to stumble to get back to their rooms. They’re also setting up extra staff to be at the ready to escort people back to their rooms.”

Arranging papers for his point of view, he studies more of the room assignments, hums to himself, and mutters out a few names while contemplating. “They have done a good enough job. But, I can see there’s going to be a few problem areas we may need to keep watch over.”

Chad blinks in surprise at Modoran’s knowledge, and leans over to inspect the documents Modoran examines. “Really? Why?”

Modoran sighs gritting his teeth, rolls his eyes, and grumbles out his frustrations. “Well... These two smaller houses just had a big trade deal go sour between them, and neither side is exactly in the forgiving mood. I don’t think they’d fight over it in the open. But, I doubt it’d take much if they had a few drinks in them, and spot where they knew no one was looking.”

Trakenthin narrows his gaze upon Modoran from his seat in a couch chair and studies the information upon the table top. “Our schedules are not forgiving. We could patrol that spot. There would still be large time gaps.”

Modoran scratches his chin thoughtfully, deliberates the situation in his mind, and taps out a spot on the room assignments. “THIS might be a solution. Let’s see if the resort can switch these rooms around. I know this guy. Both those small houses have been wanting to get on his good side for YEARS. I doubt they’d want to cause too much trouble near his room and look like dumbasses in front of him. Also, he might like being further away from the rest of his house at the moment.”

Slowly shaking his head, Chad continues to stare at the mass of information on the coffee table, and directs a curious tone to Modoran. “I’ll see if they can manage that. How do you know about all this?”

Modoran shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly as he analyzes the schedules, making mental notes. “I worked in the service industry for a long time to make ends meet. When you get big conventions or meet ups like this, you have to factor in everything to keep it as peaceful as possible. Otherwise, you are just setting yourself up for total fucking disaster.”

Chad nods gradually, impressed, and cocks his head to the side, lifting an eyebrow. “I see. But, how do you know about all the Evuukian politics going on right now? I didn’t think you were that close to any of those houses.”

Modoran’s dark blue eyes flit wide momentarily out of sight of everyone else, and he hides a reflexive grit of the teeth. Presenting a casual demeanor, he plays off the question. “Oh, that? It’s kind of hard to not hear about all that stuff. There’s scandal after scandal that hits the evuukian news networks ALL the time. You can’t browse big news aethersites without seeing some article talking about the latest incident between houses.”

Veevi’s fuzzy ears perk up, and she reaches for the nearby remote. “That reminds me. That new evuukian drama is coming on.”

Chad ponders Modoran’s answer and agrees as he studies the paperwork more. “I can see that. If they’re making shows about it, then it must be pretty common place.”

Modoran awkwardly smiles, briefly nods, and points out another possible issue on the room assignment map. As Trakenthin examines the general layout of the resort and mulls over some areas, a knock sounds out from the front behind him. He pauses a moment, sits up, and glances over to the door. Meeting the puzzled gazes of everyone else, he stands up and walks towards the door. Veevi twists her mouth and tosses her pink hair back. “Did someone order anything?

Chad shakes his head as he watches the front door. “No. I don’t think so. But, that reminds me, we do need to think about what to do for dinner.”

Trakenthin steps up to the door, places his hand on the door knob, and pauses for moment. He shakes off an odd feeling, turns the handle, and pulls open the door inwards. Standing just outside the door, an older grath man stands waiting outside. Similar in height to Trakenthin, the grath man turns slowly around and smirks proudly. Trakenthin’s hazel eyes open wide as he recognizes the graying variant of his dirty blonde hair on the man, and looks upon the similar dark bronze skin face. He remains speechless for moments until the man greets him with a friendly grath greeting. Shock and sheer confusion hide behind Trakenthin’s stoic facade as he notices the teams of camera of crews lining up recording equipment for the perfect shot of the developing scene. After a few moments, Trakenthin forces an uncomfortable smirk upon his face and returns the greeting rather awkwardly. The grath man chuckles slightly, shrugs his shoulders, and gazes right at Trakenthin. “It has been a long time.”

Trakenthin slowly, stiffly nods, and meekly replies. “Yes. It has.”

The grath man looks around, peers inside, and presents a stoic lift of the chin. “May I come in?”

Pausing in thought and clenching the door knob out of sight, Trakenthin draws in a long breath of air, and speaks simply. “Yes...”

He steps back and aside to allow the grath man to come in. While the man surveys the room, Trakenthin closes the door shut and releases a quiet, nervous sigh. The rest of the team’s attention shifts over to the new person in the house and gaze curiously at the grath man. Chad stands up from the couch, walks towards Trakenthin and the man, and puzzles at the situation. “Well, we weren’t expecting company. Um, Trakenthin, who is this?”

Trakenthin stands next to the man, glances over briefly, and settles his gaze out into the room after calming breath. “This is my... Birth father...”

As the rest of group interest piques with the new arrival, and they get up to greet Trakenthin’s father. Trakenthin stands by, quietly, a nervous tremor sneaking into his hand as he remains stoic and amicable.

Relaxing in a recliner, the elderly, well-dressed Dr. Dawkins stares distantly out onto the evening skyline and eases out a long sigh. His eyes wander around the room of artifacts, awards, and photographs upon the walls and shelves. He idly taps his fingers on a half-full glass of brown liquor, and slowly frowns as he wanders into his own thoughts. Minutes pass by and his expression saddens at the conclusion of each thought. He cocks his head slightly as a knock soft echoes out from his front door. Briefly he focuses his attention towards the sound, quickly searches his mind, and squints his green eyes at an empty Tuesday spot on a wall calendar. Another series of polite knocks tap out on front door.

Dr. Dawkins tugs the corner of mouth, perks up his brow, and eases himself standing. He walks initially stiff into the nicely decorated dining room, steps into a cozy entry room with a fireplace, and stands at the front door. He closes one eye, peers through the peephole, and tries to see who is on the other side. Pausing in surprise, he pulls his face away from the peephole blinking dumbfounded, flips a nearby light switch, and looks through to the other side of the door again. His jaw drops agape, he stands up straight, and stares blankly. “My gods...”

In series of motions, he undoes the small security chain and unlocks the deadbolt, and opens the door. Isaac greets Dr. Dawkins with a pleasant smile and bows slightly as he adjusts his blue scarf against the wind. “Sorry to drop by so unexpectedly, but I didn’t have time to send a proper advance notice.”

Dr. Dawkins stares at Isaac for a few moments, dons a short grin, and chuckles to himself. “My gods... Isaac. What an unexpected, though welcomed surprise! Please come in, my friend.”

Isaac smirks with a little reservation, glances around, and steps inside. “Thank you.”

Dr. Dawkins directs Isaac inside with a delighted smile, and pats him on the shoulder. “I told you that you may darken my doorstep any time. You will always be a friend to me and welcome in my home.”

As Isaac steps in, a slight frown appears on his face and he gazes over to Dr. Dawkins. “I really do appreciate the sentiment. I just didn’t know if the invitation was still valid after all these years, and after all that I’ve done during them.”

With firm squeeze on Isaac’s shoulder, Dr. Dawkins stares right into Isaac’s gray eyes, and narrows his gaze briefly. “I’ve come to be more aware of your activities as of late... As have some others. Admittedly, I’ve had my suspicions for quite some time. But, right now all I see if Isaac Huxley, my old friend. And, someone I wouldn’t mind sharing an evening drink with.”

A bright, gracious smile appears on Isaac’s face, and he nods thankfully towards his friend. “Thank you, again, Dr. Dawkins.”

A similar grin appears on Dr. Dawkins as he steps more energetically while he leads Isaac through the house towards the living room. “Gods almighty, there is so much catching up we have to do. You ARE going to stay awhile are you?”

Isaac blinks to attention and quirks an eyebrow towards Dr. Dawkins. “You certain about that? I mean if you know exactly what I’ve done over the years... I wouldn’t want to impose upon you...”

Dr. Dawkins slowly shakes his head and scoffs with a curl of his upper lip. “Bah. Impose all you want. No one bothers me out here. I’ve got a spare bedroom with a wonderful view of the backyard, a fine desk, and a recently purchased bed.”

With a snort, Isaac chuckles and shakes his head. “So, you finally got rid of those antiquities?”

Nodding his head while he directs Isaac to another recliner in the room, Dr. Dawkins laughs and grins with a sarcastic edge. “Yes, I finally realized there are some museum pieces not worth curating.”

He settles down into his recliner, glances over to Isaac, and rolls his eyes at himself. “Truth be told, I was sitting around one day pondering about random things, and damned if it didn’t dawn me to do the math. Once I figured out how many years I had those things, I just couldn’t really bring myself to lay on them anymore.”

While setting up another glass next to Isaac on the small table between the recliners, he laughs and shakes his head with a bit embarrassment. “Gods, I really should have done it years ago. Those new beds are so much nicer on my aging back.”

Isaac supports his glass as Dr. Dawkins pours a healthy portion of brown liquor in. Dr. Dawkins tops his glass up, rests the bottle down, and picks the drink up. Isaac lifts his glass up, and the two clink glasses together, and share long sips of the alcohol. They quietly stare out at the evening light through the windows and share a few minutes of silence. Dr. Dawkins glances over with a sly grin and hoists an intrigued brow. “So, the fateful question... What ever brings you back to these parts?”

Postponing his response with a long swig of liquor, Isaac deliberates the query upon his face, and hums in thought. “Well, to be perfectly honest, I recently encountered a strange, unexpected turn of events... That left me reconsidering how I was approaching things... And, I felt I needed to consult someone I felt was wiser than me.”

Dr. Dawkins snorts out his amusement, narrows his quizzical stare at Issac, and frowns slightly as he gazes back out into the evening skyline. “You are more than welcome to what wisdom I may still have, but it is quite ever full of doubt these days.”

Isaac narrows his concerned gaze at Dr. Dawkins, and settles his white haired head against the back of the recliner. “You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. Orth Ridge was NOT your fault.”

A regretful wince creases Dr. Dawkins face as the glints of tears form in the corners of the his eyes. “I truly do appreciate the sentiment, especially coming from you. But, gods, I have not been able to find it in me to bring forgiveness to myself. Haven’t been as sure of myself since, either.”

A sad expression washes over Isaac, and he pours a long swing of alcohol down his throat. Dr. Dawkins hems, and dons a mild, hopeful smile to Isaac. “But, it has humbled me greatly and tempered my opinions... I’ve certainly learned to be whole lot less judgmental of anyone’s methods. Just do not feel like I’m really of any authority to question them.”

Isaac cracks a smirk, slightly shrugs his shoulders, and nods understandingly. “Well... The truly tragic are the ones who gain no wisdom from their adversities.”

The two men peacefully sip on their liquor in silence for a few minutes, and idly think. Isaac eventually breaks the quiet with the main topic. “So, I’ve come here for your help on a few matters.”

Dr. Dawkins steadies his drink, perks up a white eyebrow, and smirks intrigued. “I figured as much. And with most matters, I will be happy to assist. But, I am not the big mover and shaker I used to be with the Grand Library. Still... I do have a few favors I need to cash in before they go too stale. So, you may as well benefit from them.”

Isaac smiles appreciatively and nods with a lift of his glass. “You are ever so kind. Unfortunately, there might be one thing that could prove a bit too difficult for the both of us.”

An inquisitive expression warms on Dr. Dawkins and he narrows an intrigued gaze towards Isaac. “Oh. Really? Now whatever would that happen to be?”

Twisting his mouth while gauging Dr. Dawkin’s reaction, Isaac calmly replies with a bit of reservation in his tone. “WHERE Dr. Malkav is?”

Dr. Dawkins’s green eyes flit wide, and he cocks his head back as he stares curiously at Isaac. “Good gods... Now you have my intrigue. Why ever do you want to find that crazy old bastard for?”

A sly grin appears on Isaac’s lips, and he chuckles out his amusement. “What if I told you, that crazy old bastard... Was RIGHT.”

Slowly sitting upright in his recliner, Dr. Dawkin’s rests his drink down on the table between, and focuses an intense gaze upon Isaac. “NOW... You have my full attention. I do hope you are not playing some elaborate joke at my expense.”

Isaac meets Dr. Dawkin’s look with an excited smile, and his face lights up. “What if I told you I have PROOF that there IS a way...”

An examining stare analyzes Isaac’s face, and Dr. Dawkins cocks his head to the side in genuine wonder and academic excitement. “Well... I certainly would hope you wouldn’t keep me waiting, and present such evidence before me.”

Resting his drink on the table, Isaac leans himself off the recliner and stands up from it. He smiles eagerly and nods. “Of course not. I have that particular evidence in my car. It might take some time to fully explain the significance, but it’s a fascinating process I learned from a very bright future prospect for the Grand Library.”

Dr. Dawkins quickly rises up from his chair, steadies himself, and follows Isaac, as the two head towards the front door. “I am a retired man. I’ve got a frustrating surplus of idle time I’d love to find a good use for.”

A new excited energy sparks youthful life in Isaac’s eyes, as he opens the front door. “Well, then you might be quite interested in a few other of my notes and other unpublished discoveries.”

Waving a finger at Isaac, Dr. Dawkins grins slyly at him as the two approach his car. “Gods almighty, I am so glad you finally came here. I do hope you are planning to stay for at a least week or more.”

He points over towards one of the doors in a large garage, and motions Isaac to it. “Let me get the garage door open, and you can hide your car in there. That way we can take our time tonight and how ever long we need.”

Isaac furrows his brow as he stands next to his sedan, and laughs as he scratches his head of white and gray hair. “Well, I didn’t mean to completely upset your schedule.”

Dr. Dawkins shakes his head and scoffs with a dry grin. “Bah, to hell with my schedule. I’ll just tell everyone I’ve got a terrible case of something in graphic detail, and you won’t believe how happy they will be that I stayed home.”

Isaac blinks in utter surprise and cocks his head to side. Dr. Dawkins smirks and rolls his eyes at the notion. “You will NOT believe what you can get away with when people think you are a senile, old washed up retiree.”

Stifling his laughter, Isaac nods in agreement and ponders a moment. “I have to ask, is that old Pancake Shed on highway two thirty one still around?”

Dr. Dawkins grins with a chuckle as pauses in thought. “Oh, yes. Despite what’s changed over the decade, that’s still a fixture. I can’t fathom how the damned thing stays in business being on that ancient route.”

Isaac dons a bold smile and opens his car’s door. “I think people like us later tonight. If you don’t mind sneaking out, and keeps a low profile.”

Pausing in thought for a moment, Dr. Dawkins wags finger at Isaac and nods. “They do have good late night coffee.”