Episode 74

Stepping out into the noon sun, Trakenthin follows his father through the back sliding glass door of the two story house. Narrowing a confused and perplexed stare, he glances towards either side and spots groups of recording crew with their full attention upon him. As Trenannin continues to march forward with a bold grin on his face, he moves towards the corner of a back yard. Pausing briefly, he starts searching for a route to somewhere else. Trakenthin steps next to Trenannin and puzzles at his behavior, while maintaining his neutral mask under the attention of the cameras. “Where are WE doing?”

Trenannin chuckles slightly with a dark tinge, and glances over his shoulder towards his son. “YOU need to settle a score. Recover your honor. From YOUR loss.”

Trakenthin twists his mouth and blinks out his apprehension. Searching his memory, a faintly familiar moment rises to front of his mind, and his hazel eyes widen in a mix of surprise and concern. “What... loss?”

Grumbling while surveying the underbrush and visually tracing a path through to the open field diagonal to the house’s back plot, Trenannin glares at Trakenthin momentarily. “Match at the convention. With The Coward’s daughter...”

An uncomfortable wave radiates through Trakenthin, and he grits his teeth as his posture stiffens with his growing unease. “That match? It was not important. Nothing official. Does not count-”

Hopping over a low wooden fence, Trenannin trudges through the overgrowth and navigates around the brush beyond the back yard. “When it is The Coward’s spawn, it counts.”

Snarling his upper lip briefly, Trakenthin climbs over the barrier and trails behind his father with a faintly pleading tone. “Why are you going over there? Now?”

Pushing through the last shrub, Trenannin steps out into the sunny, grassy field, and searches for signs of activity towards the ranch style house on the other end of the plot. “YOU will demand a rematch.”

Trakenthin eyes widen and an uneasy curl forms at the corner of his developing frown. “This is NOT the best approach. Try a formal request first? Proper time. Proper place...”

As the camera crews finally navigate into the open field and refocus upon father and son, Trenannin turns around, aims a glare at his son, and sneers slightly. “You are NOT backing down?”

Narrowing a stare at his father, Trakenthin growls through his teeth and sighs full of irritation tipped indignation. “NO. I prefer proper process.”

Obscuring hints of his redirecting motive, he presents a firm, stern attitude as he elaborates upon his idea. “Make it official. Public. Written in records.”

In distance, Dretphi walks out into the side plot next to the house from the front yard, readies her practice blade, and an energetically swings through a series of maneuvers. Trenannin catches sight of of Dretphi and faintly overhears a few irritated quips in grath. A grin appears on his face, and he starts walking quickly across the field. “Understand the sentiment. Would like that under normal conditions. Time is short. YOU take the opportunity NOW.”

Trakenthin uncomfortably contorts his face and catches up to keep pace with his father. He begrudging pleads with his father, and tries to quell his growing frustration. “I will properly request the rematch. If she accepts, she sets time, place.”

Trenannin glances over his shoulder at his son with a tint of suspicion hidden in his the growing disagreement on his face. Trakenthin smirks boldly and chuckles. “Present fair offer. Refuses to defend her victory under those conditions? Proves she is the coward’s daughter.”

Pondering the concept for a few moments, an approving, proud grin appears on Trenannin face, and he nods in agreement to the proposal. Patting the back of his son firmly, he glances toward Dretphi and laughs towards the camera crew. “I have taught you well! An offer we win regardless.”

Performing through a number of sword exercises, Dretphi finishes the last attack in a series and grumbles to herself. She repeats the last motion, sneers her upper lip at her performance, and draws in a long breath. Her gaze rests upon the large tree nearby, and her mind wanders through a chain of self-reflective frustration and aggravation. After a few seconds, her attention returns to her immediate surroundings, and she realizes the crowd nearby. Sorting through the initial surprise at the camera crews, her focus settles directly upon Trakenthin. She grimaces and voices her annoyance. “Can I help you?”

Trakenthin draws in a breath, assumes a stoic facade, and clearly states. “I am here to request a rematch for our fight at the convention. You set conditions. Do you accept?”

Blinking utterly bewildered, Dretphi shakes off the initial confusion and rolls her steely gray eyes with an unamused, dismissive groan. While Dretphi ponders the offer and disagreement rises into her expression, trickles of relief seep out into Trakenthin demeanor and he glances over to his father. As Dretphi begins to relay her refusal with the start of a phrase and a wave of the hand, Trenannin spouts off a particular grath phrase. Trakenthin’s jaw drops as the words echo in stark familiarity to those before the original match. Recognizing the same phrase in a different voice, he snaps his blatant discomfort towards Dretphi. Hearing the insulting words again, Dretphi’s face blanks and halts her answer before it leaves her lips. She narrows her angry glare at Trakenthin, spikes her practice sword firmly into the dirt in front of her, and points sharply at Trakenthin. “I ACCEPT. Two hours from now. Out in the field. Two-handed sparring blades. Match upon first confirmed vital hit with blade.”

An excited grin grows wide upon Trenannin face and he proudly slaps the back of his son. “You have a match.”

Under the heavy weight of camera attention, Trakenthin struggles to maintain a stoic front to cover the swell of dread bubbling through him. He musters up a meager smirk to satisfy his father, and sneaks out a wavering sigh as Dretphi promptly turns away to prepare.

A crowd of teams and crew surround Dretphi and Trakenthin in an impromptu ring in the middle of the grassy field. Gusts of wind blow waves in the taller grasses nearby, and occasional clouds drag patchy shadows across the open area. Aristespha crosses her arms as the breeze moves stray silvery blue hairs off her shoulders. Sotalia rests her hands on her hips, and casts an unamused glare towards a few members of the camera crew when they get close. Deedri and Tassilda exchange quiet commentary, and relay their similarly wary sentiments across to the other group with momentary glances. Modoran maintains a distance from the gathering, and eyes over to an excited Samantha and apprehensive Gerald nearby. Cideeda twists a souring mood out on her face as she taps her foot, but musters up an encouraging gaze towards Dretphi. Bach notices an examining stare from Chad, awkwardly tries to play off the attention, and settles his focus back to the match. Veevi energetically cheers out with an insult. “You kick that blonde bimbo’s ass, Trakenthin!”

Dretphi narrows a dark glare upon Veevi and stares through her very existence. A moment later, Chad feels the close cower of Veevi, glances to his side to see her taking cover behind him, and rolls his brown eyes with a faint groan. Trenannin smirks at the comment from Veevi, and maintains his stoic gaze upon Dretphi and Trakenthin. Trakenthin raises his two-hand sparring sword up in a readied position, draws in a long calming breath, and directs his attention to Dretphi. “I am ready.”

Tossing back her platinum blonde braids, Dretphi lifts her similar blade up, pauses to close her eyes briefly in thought, and nods to Trakenthin. “We start... Now.”

An eerie silence rests upon the vicinity, the wind stills for seconds, and a cloud shadows the area. Both Dretphi and Trakenthin observe each other. Minute movements from either trigger slight motions to counter from the other. Stances shift briefly to explore the finely tuned reactions from the opponent, and the two combatants constantly reevaluate ever changing tactics. Seconds of stillness pass, and Trenannin spouts out an irritation tipped quip in grath.

Simultaneously, Dretphi and Trakenthin launch out towards each other. Both exchange quick attacks for blocks, and anticipate the counters into defensive positions. Combinations of maneuvers evolve from both Dretphi and Trakenthin, and refine to hunt down the weaknesses in other’s abilities. After a close dodge, Dretphi leaps back to gain distance, but Trakenthin quickly attempts to seize the opportunity. Noticing the incoming assault, Dretphi sets up a feint, leads Trakenthin’s attack to a create false opening, and staggers. When Trakenthin drives the assault, Dretphi shifts herself out of the way, and checks her full body weight into Trakenthin, sending him backwards onto the grass field. When Trakenthin lands on the ground, cheers and excitement rise up from Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, and Sotalia. Dretphi readies herself and moves in quickly, hearing the encouraging calls from Chad, Deedri, Modoran, Tassilda, and Veevi. Angry, derisive disappointment taints Trenannin yells at Trakenthin, and Dretphi halts her charge. She thinks a moment. Glaring insulted at Trenannin, she steps back with her blade readied and waits.

Trakenthin puzzles, stands back up, and readies his sparring sword. Exchanging stoic, respectful nods, the two resume the match to the mixture of confusion and intrigue from the crowd on both sides. Dretphi and Trakenthin trade masterful impacts up their blades, and the wood echoes out into the field over the sounds of supportive cheers and a series of degrading grath terms.

Minutes into the match, signs of fatigue reveals themselves upon the combatants. The timing between waves of attacks and counters grows longer with each flurry. The surrounding teams silence themselves when Dretphi or Trakenthin lunge out, and focus upon the clash of the imposing titans. Recording crews shift constantly around to capture the best action angles, and frame the most dramatic moments. Trakenthin summons up a surge of strength, releases a powerful flurry of blows, and rains a barrage upon Dretphi. With expert precision, Dretphi anticipates the course of each attack, intercepts, and redirects the energy. At the last moment, Trakenthin dramatically alters the course of a finishing strike and empowers it with all his strength. Dretphi awkwardly shifts to receive the impact upon her sparring sword, and fails the properly redirect. Pressing his full weight upon the clash of wooden blades, Trakenthin brute force shoves Dretphi off-balance, and she tumbles back upon the ground.

Sorting through the calls of concern and cheers of encouragement, Trakenthin prepares his follow through. Right before driving his attack, he listens a comment from his father. Twisting his mouth uncomfortably, and he halts disapprovingly. He walks back, readies his sparring blade, and waits.

Dretphi narrows a curious gaze upon Trakenthin, smirks appreciatively, and stands back up. Settling into a combat stance, both Dretphi and Trakenthin exchange respectful nods to the growing excitement from the crowd, and the confusion from one. Both pant out their looming exhaustion, judge the status of the other, and arrive to an unspoken agreement.

They still themselves, focus fully upon the other, and tense their bodies. Simultaneously the two launch at each other. In the fractions of time during their charges, both constantly change attack angles in response to the other until they settle upon their vectors. As the two close in, Trakenthin leads the point of his sparing sword forward, and aims the tip right at Dretphi’s center mass. Quickly adjusting, Dretphi braces herself with her blade at the ready to intercept and body adjusting to counter. Mere moments away from the clash with Dretphi, Trakenthin’s muscles tighten. Right before the swords touch, he pulls his blade back, drops low to the ground in a powerful spin, and swings his sparring sword tightly away from Dretphi. Sliding upon the ground, he leads the blade into a full, sweeping revolution around, and rams the tip of the wooden blade squarely towards the center of Dretphi’s back. Readying his full strength behind the finishing move, he winces in pain as he tenses his chest, and recent memory flashes before his eyes. In a moment of reflection and calm, eases his attack to a modest amount of energy, and lands a gentle but firm wooden tip upon Dretphi’s back.

Both combatants freeze in place, confirm with each other and the surrounding crowds, and wait. The Flames of of the Phoenix team yells out triumphantly, the other squad claps encouragingly through disappointment, and Trenannin incredulously complains. Trakenthin lowers his weapon from Dretphi, stands up, and releases a long sigh of relief. Dretphi slumps her shoulders slightly, musters up a stoic front, and respectfully holds out a hand. “Excellent match.”

Trakenthin firmly shakes Dretphi’s hand with a grateful smirk. “An honor to have. It was close. A proper rematch.”

Trenannin watches the handshake, does not bother to quell his disgust, and storms up to his son accusingly. “What type of match was THIS?! Passed an opportunity? Showed mercy?! To HER?!”

Mustering up every bit of calm, Trakenthin draws in a long breath through his gritting teeth, releases grumbling exhale, and slowly pivots to face his father. “YOU wanted a rematch. I provided.”

Trenannin sputters out a number of angered sentences in grath. Trakenthin struggles to maintain calm, and slowly states. “As YOU said... It was MY fight to rematch. NOT yours. Settled it as I saw fit.”

An irate scowl develops upon Trenannin and he launches into angry scolding of Trakenthin. While Trakenthin resolutely stands, Dretphi watches in utter disgust and notices the flinches of pain as the hurtful grath phrases wash over Trakenthin. With a final summoning of spite, Trenannin spits out a quip towards Trakenthin and Dretphi, that abjectly shocks Dretphi. It catches the full attention of an offended Sotalia. “THE FUCK did he say?!”

Clenching his fist tightly around his sparring sword, Trakenthin grits his teeth, puffs up his chest, and glowers at his father silently. Staring down Trenannin, Trakenthin fights swelling rage growing blatant to the teams and crew. With a sudden stillness, he breathes out his ire, and refocuses an odd, stern calm to his father, and glares. “Do you have anywhere else to be?”

Tilting his head to the side, Trakenthin narrows his hazel eyes and snarls his upper lip. “Out of my life? Again... As it SHOULD BE.”

Trenannin’s expression blanks completely, and he stares absolutely bewildered at his son. Seconds later, he returns to the awareness of his surroundings, and notices the undesirable attention from the crowd. Without another word, he steps back, looks upon his son, pivots, and walks away back towards the two-story house.

Peeking from under the covers, emerald green eyes stare at the late morning light slipping in through the window blinds. Slowly panning her gaze across the room, Cideeda settles her attention upon the desk against the other wall, and focuses upon the blemished chest plating upon the table top. With a long, sad sigh, she groans out her disappointment, and curls up into her bed sheets. Tossing and turning, she finds a comfortable spot on her bed, pulls her tail up to her chest, and wraps her arms around herself tightly. She exhales somberly through her nose, closes her eyes, and nuzzles her head upon her pillow. Bringing her tufted tail tip close, she hides the stale frown on her light brown face and lets her furry ears droop near her shoulders. Minutes of quiet pass on by as Cideeda rests within her own thoughts.

A few soft knocks on the door stirs up Cideeda’s attention as a furry ear flicks towards the bedroom entry. Waiting quietly, she finally opens her eyes partially to a second series of taps upon the wood, and Sotalia’s voice calls out from the other side. “Hey, Cideeda... You awake in there?”

Searching for how to handle this, Cideeda draws in a reluctant breath and directs her halfhearted reply. “Yes.”

Sotalia tone brightens a bit and she pries. “You doing okay? You want anything for lunch?”

Snuggling up into her bed covers more, Cideeda sighs with a slight grumble and closes her emerald green eyes. “I’m... fine. Just tired and still a little sore today. I’m not all that hungry right now...”

She pauses a moment and softens her frown with a slight smirk. “Thanks for checking.”

On the other side of the door, Sotalia nods with a slight down turn of her smile and raps her long, black nails lightly on the door frame. “Let us know if you need anything.”

Cideeda’s voice softly resonates out. “Will do.”

Walking slowly down the hallway with concern blatant on her face, Sotalia brushes back her fiery orange, wavy hair over her swept back horns, and hums thoughtfully to herself as she walks out into the living area. Aristespha, Bach, Dretphi, and Sebastian shift their attention from random paperwork on the dining table towards Sotalia. Thinking a few moments along with her steps to the towards the kitchen, Sotalia meets everyone’s gazes, and twists her mouth. “Yeah... She says she’s just tired and sore.”

The group exchanges looks and quickly arrives to a shared, unconvinced conclusion. Aristespha deliberates briefly and lifts an intrigued brow. “Admittedly, that was quite the hit she took, but I think it’s more psychological at this point.”

As the team ponders options quietly, Bach speaks up and motions towards the garage. “Let’s see how much more can get done on the... project... I think we can get it done tomorrow.”

Sebastian nods in agreement, drifts over to the hallway, and keeps watch. The others head out into the garage, quickly dispersing to various locations, and revealing hidden materials.

Trakenthin sits up against his bed, near the secluded corner of the room. He holds up his aetherphone in front of him and sighs deeply trying to collect his thoughts through rambling about various things. A motherly tone sounds out from the device, and the video feed on screen displays a calm, older grath woman. She focuses her hazel eyes towards Trakenthin’s side of the call and tilts her head slightly with a subdued curiosity. She twists the corner of her mouth, eases out a long sigh, and speaks out an explanation with tinges of regret. She slowly shakes her head, rolls her eyes at the past and herself, and frowns sadly as she mentions Trenannin by name. Wavering as old memories return to the surface of her mind, she draws a long, thoughtful breath, and exhales out a few remarks of wisdom earned by hard experience.

Slowly lifting his head up to face the phone, Trakenthin brushes back his hand through his short dirty blonde hair, and grimaces. Swaying his head with each part of the grath sentences, he puzzles through anger, confusion, and sadness. He pleads out through stilted phrases, struggles to determine the answer he seeks, and pauses a moment. With incredulous scrutiny upon the video feed of his mother, he refers to his father, and poses a simple open ended question as he runs out of words to continue the thought process.

The maternal figure on the other side of video call sighs, twists her mouth thoughtfully, and then smiles lovingly. She gazes her hazel eyes into the camera. She briefly points towards Trakenthin through the call, and addresses Trakenthin directly with a simple loving word. With a calm motherly smirk, she speaks thankful, endearing terms to Trakenthin.

In a moment of silence, Trakenthin gazes at the screen blankly for seconds. Closing his similarly hazel eyes tightly, streams of tears run down his dark bronze face and he sniffs. Emotion finally pushes through, and Trakenthin surrenders to sobbing. Fumbling through attempts to constrain his feelings, he apologizes to his mother. With each comforting and calming grath word from his mother, Trakenthin eventually regains his composure and a smile graces his face. Releasing a final sniffle free sigh, he gazes with a bit of embarrassment to his mother on his aetherphone display, and mentions some recent events.

A few other women’s voices rise out of the background of the other side of the call. The video feed of the phone angle up and back from Trakenthin’s mother to reveal three other older grath women. Trakenthin blinks in surprise and greets them as his house mothers with endearing terms. One calls out to Trakenthin and refers to a something. Trakenthin glances around the room, spots his handmade bedroll, and nods with an appreciative answer. The focus of the display returns to Trakenthin’s mother, and she cracks a mischievous smirk. Trakenthin lifts a warily curious brow, and carefully asks. His mother smiles reassuringly, and references the Next Adventurers of Nexus with a few choice terms. Faint dark chuckles grace the background from the other side of a the call, and Trakenthin slightly nods wide-eyed as his mother changes the subject.

The humvee slows to a halt in front of the stoplight intersection. Cideeda sinks back into the driver’s seat, droops her furry ears down towards her shoulders, and stares annoyed ahead at the bright red. Drifting her gaze down to the hood of the vehicle, she narrows a frustrated glare upon small dents shadowed from the late afternoon sun and highlighted by the overhead stoplight. Tightening her claws into her steering wheel, and she grumbles and groans out her frustration. “GODS... I can’t believe how much that asshole wanted for these parts.”

Sotalia glances over from her aetherphone, sighs, and shakes her head. Shifting in the passengers seat, she grits her teeth briefly, and rolls her golden eyes. “Seriously. I mean how often does he have anyone wanting those parts anyway? You’d think a discount would be worth having the shelf space.”

Cideeda combs her fingers through her short, multi-colored hair, narrows her emerald green eyes ahead, and twists her mouth. “I mean... Yes. They are rare. Yes. Someone else might come along to pay out more money for them. But... DAMN IT! I’m offering decent money today to take them! There's more dust on them than the shelf they were on!”

The stoplight flicks to the bottom lamp and casts a green hue over one side of the intersection and humvee. Cideeda pushes accelerator hard, carefully eyes the diagnostic output from the in console display, and sighs. “Fuck... The hell is that drive motor lagging behind for...”

She returns to the previous conservation with Sotalia, and shakes her head with a long roll of the eyes. “They’re NOT vital parts. They are exterior accessory parts. People have figured out retrofits and I KNOW I can craft something that’ll work. Gods damn me for wanting to keep to proper replacement parts, and taking advantage of a local source.”

Sotalia smirks derisively, settles back into her seat, and chuckles to herself. “Visiting that stupid place was an act of fucking charity. I’m surprised the building was still standing. He should be happy anyone bothers to look that dump up.”

Cideeda grits her teeth briefly, tenses her shoulders, and releases a long defeated sigh. “Well, he’s bit richer than he should be. So... Whatever... I got the parts... Despite him getting a better deal than he deserves. Last time I go there.”

As the humvee speeds down a long stretch of two lane highway, a white sedan with a light bar pulls out from a side road, and closes the distance gradually. Cideeda maintains her speed and watches the road ahead, slowly relaxing in her seat and glancing over to the diagnostic data on the console display. After a minute of closely following behind, the white car turns on its blue flashing lights and chirps out a few seconds of its siren. Cideeda and Sotalia startle in their seats, glance behind over their seats, and exchange confused expressions. While pulling the humvee over to the shoulder and slowing down, Cideeda peers through the rear view mirror, snarls her upper lip, and spouts off a fvalian curse. Sotalia narrows a glare to the local police officer in the white vehicle, and directs her voice to Cideeda. “What the hell does this asshole want? You weren’t speeding or anything?”

Cideeda contorts the frustration out upon her face, thinks a moment, and shakes her head as she turns off the powerplant. “No. At least, not enough to pull us over. It’s the beginning of the month... What is he doing? Getting a head start on his quota?”

Sotalia grimaces, shakes her head, and drops back upon her seat. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve all been warned about us. Probably trying to hassle us out of town now.”

Stepping out of the white sedan, the fvalian policeman adjusts his hat, straightens his posture, and authoritatively walks to the driver’s side of the humvee. Cideeda rolls down the window, waits with her eyes ahead, and hands on the wheel. The officer glances down with a neutral, plain expression. “License and registration.”

Cideeda quickly retrieves the vehicle registration card from the center console, sorts through her wallet for her license, and hands the two bits of documentation over. The officer takes them in his clawed hands, pauses to carefully survey the inside of the vehicle through Cideeda’s window, and moves away slowly back toward his car. He visually scans the humvee on his way back. Sotalia crosses her arms and silently eyes the fvalian man. Cideeda tightens her lips, and maintains her cool demeanor with breaths through her toothy grimace. After long minutes, the officer arrives back at the side of the humvee, returns the vehicle registration, and shows Cideeda’s license to her. With a routine, monotone drone, he points to her card and explains. “Your driver’s license is an old version. You’ll need to get it updated as soon as possible to meet the new GAA requirements.”

Cideeda presents a faux smile, flutters her eyes endearingly, and holds her hand out to accept the license. “I’ll remember to do that. If that’s all, I really wouldn’t want to take up any more of your time-”

Interrupting and continuing his presentation, the policeman deposits Cideeda’s driver’s license onto her palm, retrieves his ticket book from his side, and finishes filling out a few details. “Your tail light cover is broken and the running light is out.”

Mustering up a cheery tone, Cideeda smiles brightly with a toothy grin, and motions to the box of parts in the seat behind her. “Well, that you don’t have to worry about! We just got the parts to fix it and are on our way home to take care of it.”

Sotalia glances around, picks up the receipt, and points out the piece of paper to the officer. “We even have the receipt. We made this trip just to take care that.”

The fvalian police officer continues to fill out information on his paper pad, pauses a moment to stare unmoved at Cideeda and Sotalia, and finishes the ticket with a rehearsed tear of the perforations. He presents the piece of paper to Cideeda, and drones out his explanation. “This is a citation for operating a vehicle without proper road safety equipment. Bring proof you have resolved the issue by the indicated date to the central courthouse, and the citation fine will be waived. You will still have to pay the court filing fee.”

As Cideeda firmly pinches onto the offending ticket, her smile gradually twitches to a snarl, and she narrows an inquisitive stare towards the officer. “Okay... Well... Explain this to me...”

Gritting her teeth, she cocks her head slightly to the side, eases her frustrations out with a long sigh, and sternly inquires as tinges of sarcasm sneak in. “What is the proper procedure to address this issue upon discovery on a vehicle... if said vehicle is my only means of transportation to facilities that would either provide parts or service to remedy the problem? Do I have to arrange for a delivery service to get the parts? Do I need to call one of you to drive my vehicle over there? Is there some random temporary tag that I need to fill out completely arbitrary and inane paperwork to get?”

Blinking at the fvalian policeman with a wide, toothy grit of her teeth masquerading as a grin, Cideeda and officer silently exchange stares for seconds. Quickly the officer presents Cideeda with a small business card, and repeats a well-worn phrase. “If you have any complaints, please contact the number listed and you may file any and all grievances.”

The policeman quickly pivots, walks over into his white cruiser, and quickly departs. When the white sedan moves off into the distance, Sotalia gazes over to the silent Cideeda. “You okay?”

Cideeda’s grip clamps tighter onto the citation as a claw tip pierces a hole into the paper. Drawing in a long breath, she pulls back her lips and growls out a long string of fvalian curses as her tail puffs out. Sotalia watches in a wide eyed surprise, and blinks in astonishment. After the long rant, Sotalia sorts through the words in her mind, and curiously restates one to Cideeda. “They should have cut your tail and stuck it in front so you wouldn’t be an embarrassment? Did I translate that correctly?”

Recovering her composure, Cideeda settles into the back of her seats, turns her head to face Sotalia, and nods. “For the most part...”

Sotalia twists her mouth, glances down the road mischievously, and perks her brow. “Want to stop by the vice store on the way back?”

Cideeda starts up the powerplant of the humvee, releases a long grumble, and smirks through the aggravation. “Yes.”

An aetherphone rings out on a night stand next to a bundle of covers upon a bed. Peering out from the mass of bed sheets, Cideeda’s emerald green eye spots the rattling device. She reaches out, snatches the phone back into her pile of blankets, and taps the screen to answer. “Hello?”

Listening to the caller, a smile gradually appears on the groggy Cideeda, and she slowly pulls down the sheets. Blinking to the late morning light, Cideeda rubs the sleep out of her eyes and chuckles lightly. “Thank you, mom. It’s good to hear you, too. Sorry, I haven’t called you lately. It’s been a little crazy...”

Laying out on the bed with her phone next to her ear, Cideeda listens to her mother’s voice and her mood brightens. “Yeah... To think, today twenty nine years ago, eighth of July, I surprised you and dad by coming a little early. Always been special like that.”

Slowly rising up to sit, Cideeda draws in a long breath and sighs with a roll of her eyes at herself. “I’m feeling fine. Like I said, it’s just been a bit crazy. I’ll get into that later. What have you and dad been up to? How’s the scrap and art sales doing?”

In the living area of the ranch style house, Aristespha sits sorting through another stack of paperwork. Sebastian’s ethereal form hovers nearby and he occasionally points out a section of literature questioningly. Bach reads an article on his aetherphone upon the dining table, and slides his plate of breakfast away when Sotalia’s fork wanders too far from her own. Dretphi cleans off a plate, and stores leftovers away in containers. Spiking through the peaceful ambiance, Cideeda’s utterly shocked voice penetrates down the hallway into the area. “YOU’RE WHAT?!”

The abrupt question startles the rest of the team, and they peer towards the archway leading out of the living room into the hall. Waiting and listening carefully, a flurry of bewildered fvalian blends together between the reverb and muffling of the house structure. Sotalia slides back her chair, slinks closer to the entry, and aims her pointed ear towards the source. Her golden eyes search her mind and she tries to decipher the fast spoken, native dialect of fvalian spewing forth from Cideeda. Sotalia tilts her head to the side as she pieces together some understanding of the conservation, and her eyes widen in a mix of comprehension and surprise.

The fvalian dialog stops and silence fills the area. Sotalia moves away from the archway, turns to the rest of the curious team, and starts to open her mouth. The sound of a door opening resonates down the hallway and into the living around. Soft footsteps and claw clicks echo out, and Cideeda plods into the room. With a blank expression, she maneuvers around Sotalia, through the living area, and into the kitchen space in front of the refrigerator. Opening the door, Cideeda’s eyes acquire targets, and she grabs hold of a bottle of beer in each hand. With a swift pivot pushing the fridge door close, she runs the glass container sharply down the edge of the counter top, and pops the metal cap off as she passes by into the living room.

Sebastian hovers out in front of the archway, perks an awkwardly curious brow, and approaches the question the best he can manage at the moment. “Sooo... Everything okay, Cideeda?”

Cideeda pauses before Sebastian’s visage, takes a long swig of her beer, and blinks to some awareness with a neutral tone. “Yeah... Just fine.”

Glancing over to the rest of the team, Sebastian grits his teeth briefly and attempts to pry a bit more as gently as possible. “Okay. That’s good to hear. Any news we should know about?”

Thinking a moment, Cideeda turns towards the group, searches her mind with her eyes, and shrugs her shoulders ambivalently. “Well, my mom’s pregnant, and she asked if she could turn my old room into a nursery. So... That’s a thing.”

Pivoting towards the hallway, Cideeda departs around Sebastian, walks with soft footsteps and claw clacks to her room, and shuts the door. The rest of the team stares in utter bewilderment and awkward silence.

Sotalia stands in front of Cideeda’s bedroom door, rests her hands on her hips, and calls out. “Come on out! You can’t stay in there all day. It’s your birthday!”

Cideeda’s voice grumbles out from the other side of the door. “Exactly! It’s my birthday and I’m choosing to spend it in here.”

Furrowing her brow, Sotalia crosses her arms incredulously, shifts her weight, and taps her foot on the hallway’s hard wood floors. “And what? Watch reruns of old cartoons on the holoplayer in a nest of alcohol and snack food?”

After a thoughtful pause, Cideeda replies defensively and snips. “Well... Yes... It’s fine. I just need a day for myself.”

Bach leans in from the living room archway with an unconvinced smirk, and directs his voice down the hall. “Yeah... From experience, that’s a REAL slippery slope. Days become weeks really easily.”

Defiant growling follows up a brief moment of quiet from Cideeda’s side of the door. Sotalia draws in a long breath, sighs out loudly, and explains with stern tone. “Well, here’s your options. One, you come out willing. Two, Sebastian phases in there and bugs you until you leave. Three, Dretphi DRAGS you out.”

She leans close to the door and projects her voice. “Regardless, you sit down, enjoy the wonderful protellow pie that Dretphi made, and open your gift from us.”

Sotalia turns her head, presses her ear against the door, and curls a satisfied smile as she listens to movement and grumbling behind the door. Stepping back, she waits a few moments and rests her hands at her sides. Cideeda opens her bedroom door, musters up her composure, and sighs. “Fine. I can’t very well let a protellow pie go to waste.”

Resting her hands on Cideeda’s shoulders, Sotalia guides Cideeda down the hallway into the living area with occasional nudge. Sotalia pulls out the chair for Cideeda at the head of the table, and slides her in. As everyone settles in at the table, Cideeda observes a small box magically slide up in front of her and smile appears on Aristespha’s face. “We decided to let you open this one first before we reveal what the rest of your gift is.”

As the team gathers close around her, Cideeda grasps hold of the package, carefully examines it, and taps it with a claw tip curiously. Lifting off the box top, she angles the opening of the box and studies the contents. As intrigue drives her attention, she slowly picks up a wooden articulated figurine of a fvalian. She blinks and puzzles at the object, carefully examining each joint. Pausing a moment, her emerald green eyes widen when she catches the glint of familiar shards of crystal. Her mind quickly pieces together a possible theory, and she glances up to the others for confirmation. At the nods from everyone else, Cideeda seats the fvalian figure upon the table top, methodically gestures through an incantation, and concentrates. Holding her hands to open to either side of the wooden figurine, she wills faint flows of magical energy down her arms into the palms of her hands.

As the miasma settles, she narrows her gaze upon the to fvalian, contorts her face, and twitches her fingers as she feels out an unseen force. The wooden figure stirs. After a few erratic movements, shudders, and twitches, Cideeda grimaces as she focuses fully. The fvalian figurine slowly, stiffly moves, and lifts its arm up.

With a few slight finger movements and straining her concentration, the wooden figure slowly waves repeatedly with a few intermittent shudders. Cideeda stares in absolute awe at the little toy figurine before her in motion, upon her command. Tears well up in her eyes, and she sniffs loudly with a smile overwhelming her. In between sobs and attempts to wipe the water off her light brown face, she chuckles with a persistent grin. “It’s... Wonderful... I don’t know... What to say...”

Sotalia stands behind the chair, wraps her arms around Cideeda, and gives her a gentle hug. “When we heard the idea, we figured it’d be something you might like.”

Cideeda releases the spell, pats Sotalia’s arm, and gazes out to everyone. “This is using the golem crystals. You all made this? When? How?”

Sotalia stands back up straight with a grin, point to the rest of the team. “Well, Sebastian was the look out. Dretphi did a lot of the wood carving for the figurine parts. Aristespha and I got the crystals ready to use. And, Bach had the idea, and helped us out in all the fine details.”

Picking up the little fvalian figure, Cideeda examines it and marvels at the construction. She carefully rests it down in its box with smile, slides back in the chair, and stands up. She walks up to each tangible member of the team and hugs them tightly. After hugging Bach, she squeezes her claw tips gently onto his forearm, and perks her brow with a sly smile. “Really good idea you had.”

Bach chuckles, and awkwardly averts his eyes with a bit of embarrassment. “Well, to be fair, I kind of got the idea from that puppet show. Just modified the idea to use the golem crystals.”

Cideeda grants Sebastian an appreciative grin with a wink. “I was wondering why I kept seeing you just around every corner.”

Settling back into the dining chair and smelling the delicious aroma of protellow pie, Cideeda gazes upon her wooden figurine with a happy smile. “You’ll have to show me how to make another one of these.”

The rest of the group individually laughs and snorts to Cideeda’s confusion. Bach rolls his eyes, slides the larger box on the table closer to Cideeda, and lifts the lid. “Well... Don’t worry. You’ll have the parts to do so...”

Dretphi bites her lower lip and shrugs her shoulders innocently. “We over produced parts. Under estimated time.”

Aristespha sighs while shaking her head. “It turns out the individual parts aren’t the problem. Assembly on the other hand was quite involved...”

Bach pulls the lid off fully, rolls his eyes, and grits his teeth briefly. “In the end, I think it’ll work out better this way for you.”

Cideeda stares in wide eyed wonder at the box of small figurine parts, small golem crystals, and other components.

Sitting on her bed, Cideeda gazes at the display of her aetherphone with drooping ears and frowns apologetically with a sniff. “I’m really sorry I freaked out like that, mom. It’s a been a rough few days, and... I just really wasn’t in the right frame of mind. I just let it get the better me.”

An understanding chuckle sounds out from the speakerphone, and an older fvalian woman with green eyes and light brown skin shakes her head slowly on the video feed. “Oh, Dee, there’s nothing to be sorry about. There’s a few gods I’ll need to visit their shrines extra to make up for how badly I freaked out and cursed their names. And I REALLY should have eased into THAT announcement better...”

Cideeda rolls her eyes at herself, and presents a guilty smirk. “Yeah, and not good idea to follow up immediately with asking to use my old room. But... Still that doesn’t excuse for me being such a...”

She mutters out a fvalian term, and her mother snorts amused. Cideeda pauses in thought a moment, lifts a intrigued brow, and poses a question out of the corner of her mouth. “So, how did dad take it?”

Cideeda’s mother perks up with a guilty smile. “What? My freak out, or the news?”

Puzzling at the response, Cideeda tilts her head to the side and mumbles. “Um, both?”

Gritting her teeth briefly, the older fvalian woman rubs her temple and bites her lower lip, hinting of embarrassment. “Well, nothing he hasn’t dealt with before... I did grab him pretty hard on the arms.”

An older male voice call out in the background from the other side of the call. “I’ll live. By the way, if find a deal on some new welding gloves, message me, Dee.”

Cideeda narrows an inquisitive stare at her mother through the phone, and awaits a response. Her mother sighs with a guilty shrug, and shakes her head. After a few moments, Cideeda snorts and relaxes with a long stress venting breath out. Her mother’s furry ear flicks forward and she aims an examining gaze to her daughter through the phone. “Everything okay, Dee?”

Fighting through a mix of emotional thoughts in her mind, Cideeda rocks her head side to side indecisively. “Yes? For the most part. Just feeling... Oh gods, this is going to sound so whiny. But... Just not feeling as... Special as I thought I was.”

Wincing reflexively, she grits her sharp teeth, and cringes slightly as she reviews the words in her mind. “Oh gods, that sounds so awful. I don’t know... I guess I took comfort in certain things that didn’t change, and well... Being you and dad’s special, only child was one of those things, and it hit me kinda hard?”

Covering her face with her hand, Cideeda groans as she grimaces with an awkward twist to her mouth. “Shit, it just keeps sounding worse the more I explain it.”

Humored laughter rises from the other side of the call, and Cideeda’s mother smiles brightly and shakes her head. “It’s okay. I remember that happening a few times to me.”

She moves the camera closer, and smiles with a loving, green eyed gaze to Cideeda. “So you know, when I was trying to figure what to do... I thought about all the wonderful times I had when you were growing up. All those special moments, and how I’d get to share new moments like those... with you.”

Mother and daughter both smile, and gaze happily into each other’s green eyes. After a few moments, a sly grin appears on Cideeda’s face, and she presents a prying question. “So, mom, have you and dad thought about names?”

Her mother blinks a moment, releases an uncertain breath, and groans with an eye roll. “Gods, Dee, YOU KNOW we don’t plan things like this! I never imagined having another child, especially when I’m almost fifty. I haven’t even told my own mother yet...”

Cideeda’s eyes widen and she covers her mouth in humored surprise. “You HAVEN’T told Grandma Garadra yet?!”

Embarrassment reveals itself plain Cideeda’s mother’s face. She grits her sharp teeth, and sighs. “I KNOW! I know. Just... Just one thing at a time right now.”

With a comforting smile, Cideeda hums to herself and thinks out loud. “It’s okay. Let’s see... Let’s go through some boys names first.”