Episode 75

Pressing firmly upon the confirmation button on her tablet’s display, Aristespha wrestles a grimace upon her ivory face, and draws an uncertain breath. Allowing the device to slide through her hands down upon the tabletop, she slouches back into her chair and releases an apprehensive sigh. “Gods helps us...”

Sebastian’s ghostly figure briefly grits his teeth, and presents an assuring smile to Aristespha. “Dear, it’s going to be okay. We’ve done all we can on our end.”

Fighting the nagging doubt creeping to the front of his mind, Sebastian’s smirk weakens and he trails off. “Just hope that other people believe our intentions were good...”

Slowly pushing a pile of paperwork off to the side, Bach rests his head upon the table, and groans out his frustrations. “I swear these laws are designed to allow people to get away before anyone can file the paperwork to go after them.”

Wrapping his arms around the sides of his head, he lifts his face up and props his chin upon his folded forearms with a slight frown. “I mean... I understand you don’t want people running around doing off the wall vigilante shit. But, how the fuck are you suppose to go after obvious problems when you see them?”

Sotalia slowly walks on by the table top from the couch, pauses a moment to grant a commiserating smile to Aristespha, Bach, and Sebastian, and scoops up the last bit of cereal from the bowl in her hands. “Simply put... You don’t.”

Shaking her head with a smirk, she sighs and rolls her golden eyes. “From my experience, the only things that are legally safe for adventurers to do are from the guild. Everything else is a fucking legal minefield.”

Aristespha gradually nods, combs out a length of her long, silvery blue hair, and occupies her hands by idly braiding it. “With any kind of disturbance, the local police will investigate and consult the guild. Then, if anything that smells like a violation, they will dig further.”

She closes her violet eyes, exhales out her nerves, and twists her mouth. “And given how well they received us at the station, I’m certain they’ll be looking for any reason to question our uses of first response law and circumstantial procedures.”

Sebastian grins warmly to Aristespha and gazes lovingly at her. “I think you did a good job filling everything out. Hopefully, they’ll be too busy trying to find Noxian to really dig too deeply into what flushed him out. I would hope he’d be the bigger priority.”

Sotalia nods her head as she struts off into the kitchen area and snorts. “Gods, I’d hope that’d be a priority for them. Then again, given that officer writing a ticket for a fucking taillight, I’m not so certain.”

An annoyed grumble escapes Cideeda and drifts over to the table from the couch. She aims the television remote and flips through another set of channels. Aristespha bites her lower lip uncomfortably, and squirms out the unease throughout her body. “I have tried my best to fill everything out I can, as properly as possible, so that casual reading will paint a... legal picture of what happened.”

She grits her teeth briefly, winces with a breath in, and slumps her shoulders on the exhale. “But, if anyone observant sits down and examines it thoroughly... They are going to notice all the omissions and sparse information surrounding our questionable activities. So... I don’t know what will happen at this point.”

Finishing up the small braid, she gradually combs out her hair with her fingers, sighs, and shakes her head. “I just fear what the repercussions will be. It’d be one thing if we had apprehended Noxian. So much would be looked over with that kind of result. Without him in custody, we’re the only ones left to focus on.”

Staring distantly out on the table top, Aristespha shrinks in her chair slightly, frowns sadly, and contends with a swell of worry from within. “Depending on who gets involved with Grand Library and pushes the most, they might use this incident to pull the funding on our efforts to chase after Noxian and redirect it to some other team. The guild could see fit to put violations on our adventuring licenses and restrict what jobs we can do. And, that’s not even counting what the local authorities would do...”

Propping her arms upon the table by the elbows, Aristespha sinks her face into her hands and exhales deeply with a slow shake of her head. Her ears perk slightly when Dretphi places a mug of freshly brewed coffee in front of her. Aristespha peeks out, lowers her hands around the cup, and smiles appreciatively to Dretphi. “Thank you.”

Bach furrows his brow, hums to himself, and shrugs his shoulders. “Well, if it comes to that... I guess we’ll just have to go underground with going after Noxian.”

He lifts his head up, dons a bold smile, and speaks encouragingly towards Aristespha and Sebastian. “I ain’t stopping at this point. So, I’ll help make it work one way or another. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done some... less than official deals.”

Sebastian smirks towards his brother, nods thankfully, and ethereally sighs. “Thanks, bro. Let’s hope for the best for now.”

Aristespha smiles to Bach with a hint of relief easing some of the discomfort turning underneath the surface. Seconds later, Sotalia pauses in thought, eyes Bach through the bar opening, and lifts an incredulous brow. “Okay, okay... What kind of under handed dealings could YOU have possibly done?”

Bach crosses his arms, glances over to Sotalia, and summons up some confidence with a defensive tint. “Nothing big... Or terrible. But, I may have sold information and a few scrolls that may have defeated certain devices’ security measures.”

Sebastian narrows his gaze at Bach, cocks his head to the side, and snorts. “What? Selling scrolls to get free stuff from vending machines? I mean that was good racket back in school until they put new ones in.”

Grimacing out an uncomfortable memory, Bach darts his eyes around and mutters through his embarrassment. “Ah, um... Well, more like slot machines.”

Cideeda’s furry ears flick over towards the conversation, while the rest of the team’s collective curiosity focuses upon Bach. After a few moments, Bach sighs, drops his head briefly, and meets the expectant gazes. “Okay. Long story short. I ran into some guy at a bar. Got to talking about tricks I’ve done with magic and machines... And, he mentioned he had some old, antique slot machine in his garage. So, I had nothing better to do. I swung by his place on the way back from the bar. We goofed around with it, and I figured out a way to manipulate the result.”

Cideeda blinks in thought, searches her mind, and ponders to herself. Rolling his eyes at himself, Bach grimaces at the past and rubs his temples. “The guy got really interested in that trick, and offered me some money if I could encode the trick into a scroll. Well, rent was due and the fridge was empty... so I did.”

He twists his mouth, draws in a long breath, and contends with his unease. “What I didn’t know is that the guy knew some people. They knew of a place that was still using that ancient model. So, they copied that scroll and used it.”

Widening her emerald green eyes with recognition, Cideeda sits up on the couch, stares at Bach across the room, and tilts her head to the side. “Wait... I remember hearing something like this. Wasn’t one guy found in-”

Bach shudders and frowns with prominent disgust. “Ten pieces across SIX COUNTIES. YEAH! After that, I kept to bar game scrolls. So, glad I moved soon after that.”

In a mix of disbelief and fascination, Cideeda crosses her arms and narrows her attention upon Bach. “Oh my gods... Now it makes sense. I read about that whole incident and wondered how they got such specific scrolls that didn’t trip normal magical detection measures.”

Sotalia pulls a sly smirk across her face, lifts an inquisitive brow at Bach, and presents a curious tone. “So, Bach, what if-”

Bach snaps his stare right at Sotalia, and clearly pronounces. “NO.”

Bach opens the door leading into the garage, steps down the stairs, and pauses a moment. Shifting his attention from his sidecar motorcycle, he notices the glow of bright afternoon sun radiating from the open garage door. Allowing his blue eyes to adjust to the light, he narrows a curious gaze at the humvee in the driveway. He cocks his head to side, focuses upon the open hood of the engine compartment, and watches Cideeda’s legs hanging out upon the side fender. He wanders over to the mechanical ratchet noises clicking out, and grumbles of Cideeda straining. Arriving at the side of the humvee, Bach watches Cideeda’s hand rise up from another part of the engine area, and grip tightly to part of the frame. With slight shifts of her body, Cideeda secures her backwards flexed self down into the engine access of the military vehicle, underneath the powerplant, and tightens her ankles hooked under the lip of the fender wheel well. Bach puzzles at the scene, leans over the front corner of the vehicle, and glances down inside with a perplexed tone. “There’s got to be a better way to do whatever you are doing.”

Cideeda’s tail flicks sharply a few times before settling into a slow wag, and she snorts with a light chuckle. “Maybe, but for what I need to do, this is actually a lot faster.”

Bach narrows his gaze as he searches through the maze of pipes, electrical lines, and supporting components around the central cylindrical powerplant. “Really? Because I doubt the service manual has anything requiring the technician be capable of quite literally bending over backwards and slipping inside the engine area.”

Finishing a series of tightening cranks of a ratchet driver, Cideeda peeks her emerald green eyes through a narrow passageway between engine area machinery, and perks a confident brow. “True. To be fair, there were originally huge, ancient battery packs blocking the way on either side. But, those got replaced with new underside packs when we first fixed this thing up.”

Searching for a good view of Cideeda’s next target, Bach twists his mouth a bit unconvinced, and scratches his head. “Yeah, but can’t you just go from underneath the thing? That has to be the way the designers originally intended for it to be fixed.”

Wagging her tail in sync with the flexes of her body, Cideeda sighs and audibly rolls her eyes with a laugh. “Intended, yes. Practical, no. The correct route is to go from underneath... Which requires jacking the vehicle up a meter, unbolting thirty large bolts, getting two or three people to lower the underside armor plate, and THEN you can do what you need to do.”

Her hand slips down momentarily and rises back out through another clear corridor to claw onto new spot for support. “If I was going to completely overhaul the power distribution module, rework the turbine exhaust thermal converters, or finally change out this old hydraulic fluid reservoir... Yeah, I’ll go through the few extra hours of work, since I’ll already be investing quite a few hours anyway.”

She raps her sharp finger tips upon the metal structure of the humvee, and sighs. “But, I’m just tightening a few bolts that might need it.”

Bach thinks about the logistics a moment, slowly nods in agreement, and shrugs his shoulders. “Fair point. Still, it seems like it would be easy to get tools stuck down there, much less yourself.”

With an annoyed tone, Cideeda groans out past stale frustrations, and her tail sharply flicks out her irritation. “No shit. There’s actually no easy side access to get to anything you’ve dropped. Not even a removable access panel in the wheel well. The only reason I figured out I could fit under here was because I was so angry at losing three wrenches down here when we were broken down on the side of the road.”

Flexing her body down further into the underside of the engine area, Cideeda stretches out and strains to reach a distant bolt in a crowded section of components. “Why anyone would engineer a pit of fucking despair in any vehicle is beyond me. Anyway, just got to check this one bolt and I’m done.”

Reaching out to her furthest limit, she slips end of her socket wrench onto the awkward bolt, rotates the handle a few ratcheting clicks, and pulls it back. After a few tense moments of applying force, she gives a final tug before slipping the wrench off. “Still good there. Time to back out of here.”

Putting the socket wrench back in her shorts pocket, Cideeda secures her grip below, and releases her hold above. Weaving through previous corridor of clearance, she tentatively grips upon an engine support as she reverses direction underneath. Applying her weight onto the new hand hold, her fingers attempt to tighten upon a spattering of hydraulic fluid, and promptly slip. She yelps and hisses in surprise. Scrambling for a new hand hold, she slides down further into the engine area. “AH FUCK!”

Her ankles slip free of the wheel well lip, her tail puffs out, and her legs find partial purchase hooking against the hood and bodywork. Bach swiftly side steps in front of the flailing fvalian, reaches quickly down with both hands, and grasps the panicked Cideeda firmly around her waist. “Don’t worry, I got you!”

Seconds later after a few tail twitches, Cideeda promptly wraps her legs around Bach, crosses them behind his back, and tightens her hold. The sudden force from Cideeda draws Bach firmly against the side fender, and he blinks absolutely dumbfounded as Cideeda pulls herself out of the vehicle and up to close to Bach. Squirming around, aligning herself, and sliding Bach over, Cideeda grips onto each of Bach’s forearms with a hand each, contorts herself briefly, and gradually slips her head clear of the last obstruction. With a final flex and twist of her body, she rights herself to a seat upon the top of the side fender and ends up face to face with Bach. Bach widens his blue eyes, Cideeda blinks her emerald green eyes, and both gaze at each other across the mere centimeters between their noses in silence.

Hints of red coloring his cheeks, Bach awkwardly stumbles upon his words and fumbles at maintaining a cool exterior. “Uh... um... You okay?”

Cideeda smirks slightly with a perk of her furry ears, and calmly replies. “Oh. Yes. Just freaked out a little bit. If you slide down there too far, it’s a pain in the ass get out.”

She glances down at the tight wrap of her legs around Bach, flits her eyes open, and relaxes her hold completely. “It can get a scary, too. So, I REALLY wanted to avoid that.”

Averting his gaze in breaks from direct eye contact with Cideeda, Bach nervously replies as the slight blush spreads out on his face. His situational awareness finally reminds him of Cideeda’s waist in his hands, and he quickly releases his grasp. “Oh, yeah... I could imagine. I mean, I’m not exactly claustrophobic, but that’d be a bit much for me.”

Cideeda briefly, gently squeezes Bach’s forearms with her claw tips, slides her hands off, and resettles upon her seat. Moments of awkward silence later, she glances behind her and narrows a stare at a particular spot in the engine area. “Damn hydraulic oil. Never had a spot show up there before.”

Bach cracks a nervous smile and shrugs his shoulders. “Well, I guess it was the first time this thing has been flipped over?”

Rolling her eyes at herself, she returns her gaze towards Bach with a humored smirk. “Yeah, and speaking of that reservoir I’ve been meaning to replace.”

Struggling to maintain his composure under the close attention, Bach glances over to a few small dents on the bodywork off to the side. “So... Uh... How do you normally take care of dents like that?”

Cideeda turns her attention to the blemishes upon the metal exterior of the vehicle and sighs with a frustrated curl to her mouth. “A lot of hammering and being unsatisfied with the results. It’s a cycle of disappointment really.”

Bach smiles with a humble chuckle and motions over to the dents. “Well, I could probably work some of those out easily enough.”

Thinking a moment, Cideeda presents a toothy grin to Bach, and perks an intrigued eyebrow. “That’s right... You should be able to easily fix those little dents. I’m going to have to take you up on that offer.”

Shifting to another thought in her mind, she settles to an appreciative smile, averts her slightly bashful expression momentarily, and then focuses upon Bach. “By the way, I really love my birthday gift. I REALLY needed something that perfect to break me out of the funk.”

Bach grins awkwardly, shrugs his shoulders casually, and presents a nonchalant tone. “Well, it was a group effort. Dretphi carved most of the figurine, and helped with fitting things together. Aristespha and Sotalia got the crystals just right. And Sebastian kept you from learning about it, and suggested where to hide everything. I just gave them the idea and helped with the details here and there...”

Cideeda tilts her head to the side, grins warmly, and perks her furry ears up as she brushes back some stray hairs in her face. “It wouldn’t have turned out so well if someone didn’t know exactly what I’d like. So, thank you, again.”

She giggles brightly and stretches her posture out gradually. “I can’t wait to fit a few of those crystals in a few spare units, and surprise everyone at the game shop.”

Bach furrows his brow at Cideeda, twists his mouth into a smirk, and snorts humored. “Good gods, that’s going to freak out a few immediately, and soon after get them ready to throw money for something similar.”

An entrepreneurial smile graces Cideeda’s light brown face, and she gazes up to Bach with a laugh. “Guess we need to keep a lookout for more of that crystal, because I’m keeping my gift. Also, I need to learn a few of your tricks when it comes to wiring them up.”

Bach chuckles out some of his nervous energy, feels the blush of pink forming in his cheeks, and glances over towards the garage. “Yeah well... All in good time. Speaking of time, you think Dretphi’s got dinner done yet?”

Cideeda turns her head towards the house, draws in a number of a sniffing breaths through the her nose, and mulls over the results. “Smells like she’s getting close. It’s probably still in the oven.”

Pointing a thumb over to the kitchen door in the garage, Bach turns towards the ranch style house. “I’m going to go check if she needs help on anything.”

Granting a nod, Cideeda glances over to the engine area behind, sighs, and narrows her stare. “Yeah. I need to close this up and clean up anyway.”

She pauses a moment, grins toothily, and lifts a curious brow. “Mind helping with adjusting a few miniatures after dinner?”

Pausing his first step, Bach glances back, and nods with a smile. “Sure.”

Widening her eyes briefly, Cideeda aims her gaze down at her tail, and feels Bach slip out from its loose coiling wrap around his upper legs. As Bach departs into the garage, Cideeda thinks a moment, and flicks her tail around. After sorting through her thoughts, she bites her lower lip, curls her toes briefly, raps her fingers upon the metal of the humvee, and slowly wags her tail. A hint of pink fills her cheeks, as she fidgets a little and her thoughtful expression warms.

Aristespha slowly plods through the hallway, searches through the confusion in her mind, and gradually nods to the other side of the aetherphone call. She stops her pacing, tilts her head slightly, and grimaces bewildered. “No. That’s very good to hear. Yes, I appreciate your efforts, and I’m very happy the report satisfied your investigation.”

Blinking uneasily, she maintains a supportive vocal facade and contorts her face as her mind puzzles deeper. “Of course. Happy to be of service. Feel free contact me if there’s anything further you need. ... Goodbye.”

She removes the phone from her long pointed ear, stares absolutely perplexed at the screen, and shifts her posture with her thoughts. Idly tapping her socked foot softly upon the hardwood hallway floor, she wipes the screen off on her loose shirt, and rests her other hand on the waistband of her shorts. Tossing her long, silvery blue hair back, her violet eyes search aimlessly in her head for an explanation. After many futile seconds, mumbles of exasperated evuukian roll out of Aristespha’s mouth, and she furrows a frustrated brow. She resumes her walk to the archway leading into the living room and stops at the threshold. Rolling her shoulders, she fights back against the incredulous curl in her upper lip, and hems to get the attention of Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia. “Well, I just got off the phone with Amaranth Valley police...”

The mood in the room sharply drops as worry and dread surfaces upon everyone’s face. Biting her lower lip briefly, Aristespha draws in a long breath, and announces in disbelief, shaking her head. “We are no longer under investigation and completely cleared of any possible violations.”

Silence hangs out for mere moments before relief blasts it out of the room completely. Sotalia reclines back into the couch chair, stretching her arms out, and laughs out her anxieties. “Oh gods! You had me going there for a minute. That’s fucking amazing news!”

Cideeda’s furry ears perk up, her tail wags with a light sway as she flops back on the couch back. “No kidding! Part of me wants to ask if I can have my cameras back, but I think I’ll cut and run while I’m ahead. Small price to let them leave the issue alone.”

Dretphi releases a long sigh, relaxes her shoulders, and returns to preparing lunch. “Good news. Wonderful outcome.”

Bach melts a bit into his stabilized energy lounge chair, and exhales out his worry. “One less thing to worry about... for now.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form drifts up next to Aristepsha. He studies her expression, body language, and grumbles of evuukian under her breath. Leaning close to her, he inquires further with concern in his tone. “Dear, you okay? You don’t seem happy about this. Something wrong?”

Aristespha tugs at either corner of her mouth, groans unsatisfied, and sighs annoyed. “Sebastian... There’s NO WAY they properly read that report I wrote! Gods damn it... I know this is good for us... But, how did we get this result?! A few fines, further explanation on the reports for an ongoing investigation, or even a probationary period granted due to extenuating circumstances... Those results I can understand. Absolution?! NO.”

She rubs her eyes into a pinch of the bridge of her nose, draws a long breath in, and calms herself down. “I’m sorry. Something else is going on to have allowed this. I mean it sounded like the officer was completely satisfied with the report. Actual satisfaction. Supportive even! It’s just- Gods, something else has happened and I don’t know what. Because nothing I did could have gotten this for us.”

Sebastian crosses his arms, glances around, and frowns slightly. “Yeah, thinking about it... It doesn’t quite add up.”

Alternating flicks of her furry ears, Cideeda thoughtfully scratches her chin with a claw tip, and twists her mouth sorting through the possibilities. “Maybe they confirmed it was Noxian, and are just glad we ran into him first rather than any of their people. They may not care much for us... BUT... I doubt they’d ignore the utility of someone else going after a problem they don’t want to deal with.”

Bach taps a finger on the arm of his chair, rocks his head side to side, and shrugs indecisively. “Something else may have happened and made us look good in comparison? Thinking about that, we might want to check the news just in case.”

While suspicion and mystery drives the debate further, a familiar chime rings out from Aristespha’s aetherphone, and she eyes the caller identification. A sly smirk cracks across her mouth, and she chuckles with a roll of her eyes. “Oh. Nevermind. Here’s my answer.”

She quickly taps a few onscreen buttons, holds the phone out in front of her, and announces with a satisfied grin. “Hello, Captain Hackle. It has been a while.”

Captain Hackle’s voice resonates out into the room through Aristespha’s speakerphone, blatantly amused. “It indeed has, Aristespha. I hope everyone is doing well after recent events.”

A wry curl appears at the corner of Aristespha’s mouth, and she lifts an intrigued brow. “Which I’m certain you’ve had some involvement in.”

With a respectful chuckle, Captain Hackle sighs and elaborates. “A little. Just an appropriate, choice amount. Your report was masterfully done, and made it very easy for my organization to... explain the vague points with details that we could only provide.”

A sly tinge colors his voice as Captain Hackle continues his explanation. “I just simply informed the local department that for this particular long term, GAA investigation to operate properly, we needed a certain team of experts to operate separately and independently. Keep up appearances and maintain the expectations of our target. It was unfortunate we couldn’t involve the Amaranth Valley police department sooner before this recent incident, but it was thought we had to act before any great harm to the city was allowed to transpire. And, through the efforts out independent experts, a far greater disaster was averted.”

The team collectively stares at the aetherphone as emotions rotate through appreciation, incredulity, and apprehension. Cideeda smirks wryly and lifts a suspicious eye brow. “So, what is that explanation going to cost us?”

Presenting a thankful tone through the call, Captain Hackle calmly replies. “Nothing more. You’ve already done us a great favor recently with the containment of that nightmarish hell of a blob. Doing your due diligence and going well beyond the call of duty has saved many lives that will never know they were at risk. I want you all to know that your group handling all these hidden dangers has NOT gone unnoticed. So, consider this bit of creative administrative outreach our thanks.”

Bach blinks a bit as another wave of relief washes over him, but he narrows his stare at towards the phone and contorts his mouth with a question. “By the way, is IT still around?”

Captain Hackle grumbles out a bit of disappointment and verbally rolls his eyes. “Unfortunately so. IT has proven to be difficult to handle safely. We are very appreciative for the magical barrier you all left behind. But, handling THAT monstrosity has been reassigned to a group with more appropriate equipment to enforce containment, with specific orders eliminate the entire hill from existence if it tries to escape.”

Dretphi draws in a long breath and releases a sigh of relief. “That is reassuring.”

With a comforting tone, Captain Hackle continues and proposes. “I agree. Now, on to business... I have a simple offer. With recent troubles at the Grand Library, Noxian has become a bit of priority for a number of organizations and we are authorized to use our resources to track him down. We want to follow up on this fresh trail with our resources, but we have a pressing matter that’s preventing us from doing so. If you all can address it, I will devote my team to getting the best information on where Noxian has gone and relaying it to you.”

Sebastian floats closes to Aristespha’s aetherphone, eyes the device with a bit of suspicion, and inquiries further. “Can you provide any details about the pressing matter?”

Captain Hackle’s voice chuckles over the speakerphone and he elaborates on the situation with a calm tone. “Of course. Simply put, there’s been some strange phenomena happening, northwest of Amaranth Valley, in Ark. In a specific farming region, there’s been reports of odd noises, steam eruptions, and thermal anomalies. We have checked with geologists and they report nothing that should be causing this. And, any historians we have asked haven’t been able to turn up anything in that area. That unfortunately doesn’t mean that much, to be honest.”

Aristespha quirks a curious brow and glances over to Sotalia. “Maybe leftovers from the last maelstrom?”

Sotalia ponders out loud, searches her mind with her golden eyes, and idly plays with her fiery orange, wavy hair. “Maybe... Usually, strange things happen right after a maelstrom, but not always. But, I think Ark wasn’t directly in line with the maelstrom?”

She rolls her eyes, and eases out an annoyed groan. “Then again, doesn’t mean something couldn’t have been launched that far from the storm. I’ve heard of stranger things.”

Captain Hackle continues in a commiserating tone. “Yes, it’s an odd series of events, and we haven’t been able to find an easy explanation, hence why we were set on investigating it. But, given your group’s track record in handling strange situations, I thought this might be a good trade. Standard contract through the guild with a proper payment upon completion. All I require is an investigation into the phenomena and identification of what may be the cause.”

Sebastian’s ghostly visage nods thoughtfully, turns to the group, and address the team. “So, thoughts everyone?”

Dretphi grumbles with a reserved tone, and contorts her face with a bit of hesitation. “No known monstrosities. I will be fine. For now.”

Sotalia glances over from checking her aetherphone and smirks. “It’s probably some stray maelstrom junk that just activated for whatever reason. I’m good with going out there.”

Cideeda shrugs her shoulders, stretches out her arms and back, and smiles. “A job is a job.”

Sebastian glances over to his brother. Bach lifts a mockingly wary brow and snorts. “This one doesn’t involve thudkickers, so that’s step in the right direction.”

Aristespha exchanges a loving gaze with Sebastian, and directs her voice to her phone. “I think that’s a group acceptance.”

Hackle’s voice brightens from the other side of the call. “Excellent. I’ll have Sergeant Violet ready the bid into the guild system and send it over to your group in the next hour.”

Sebastian dons a bold, proud grin, and nods towards the aetherphone. “Sounds like a plan. We’ll see what we can find out for you. Be careful tracking down Noxian, he seemed really motivated on getting away last we saw him.”

With an appreciative tone, Hackle replies with similar sentiment. “I will heed your advice. Please be careful yourselves. While I hope this is nothing more than late maelstrom leftovers, we all know anything can happen. I’d like ALL of you to continue your hunt for Noxian after I get you the info.”

The morning sun creeps in through the sliding glass door into the living area of the ranch style house. Dretphi methodically checks down a list on a pad of paper with pencil marking the side of line items. She glances up, visually searches between a collection of boxes arranged on the living room floor, and spots the relevant label on one container. She directs her attention back to the list and scratches another check mark on the next line item.

Aristespha’s voice faintly echoes from the hallway in between pacing soft footsteps on the hardwood floors. With relief in her voice, she walks out with her aetherphone pressed to her ear, and a smile on her face. “Thank you very much, I’m so glad you have a room that will work for us. Have a nice day.”

She taps the end call button her phone, releases a long exhale, and slouches her shoulders. “Gods almighty, that took some effort. But, I found a place with a large room with enough beds for all of us, and actual space to store our equipment.”

Sotalia glances over from the kitchen area with a flask in each hand, and perks her brow curiously. “Really? Where did you find a place like that? Most hotels have gone to smaller rooms, so they can charge more.”

Aristespha slides her phone into her shorts pocket, shrugs, and gazes back, hinting at surprise. “It’s actually a proper tavern still geared towards supporting adventuring groups in that traditional style. The receptionist was trying to sell me on the theme like I was tourist. Then, she realized we were an actual adventuring team, and dropped trying to sell that point to me. Cut straight to business after that.”

Pondering a moment, Sotalia briefly diverts her attention to swirling each flask of liquid in her hands, studies the slight color shift, and resumes her work. “That might be a fun place to stay. Hope it’s as nice as Goff’s place was.”

Rubbing her long pointed ear gently, Aristespha walks over to the couch and settles down on a cushion. “Well, hard to beat a passion project like that. But, it’s a place to sleep that isn’t the humvee, and we’re not going that far from civilization.”

Dretphi finds a spot on the other side of the couch, relaxes into the seat, and drops off her pencil and paper pad on the coffee table. “Enough supplies for the mission. If we venture far from the city, we should stock up. As a precaution.”

The kitchen door from the garage opens, and Cideeda steps through with a toothy grin on her face, and announces happily. “Our ride is properly fixed up.”

Rolling her emerald green eyes with a derisive undertone, she rests her hands on her hips, lowers her furry ears, and grumbles out. “And, the local authoritative assholes are satisfied with the repairs I’ve done to the taillight. Also, paid the court fees.”

She walks over to the fridge, opens the door, and searches through the stock of drinks. “Fifty minute wait to settle something in less than five minutes. I even showed up when the court house opened.”

Sotalia takes a break from her alchemy preparation, glances over to Cideeda, and smirks amused. “Did you get your license updated?”

Pulling out a can of fruit juice, Cideeda flashes an incredulous sneer at Sotalia, snorts shaking her head, and laughs. “You’d think I’d be back here now if I did that? I thought my wait was bad, until I realized the same people I saw in that line coming in were in the same spots when I was coming out.”

Cracking open the pull top to the beverage, Cideeda grits her teeth, sighs reluctantly, and walks over to the dining table. “I think I’ll do that when I literally and figuratively have nothing better to do with my life.”

Smiling slyly, Sotalia uses a glass rod to stir up a swirling concoction of reagents in a glass beaker, and chuckles to herself. “I look forward to expanding my knowledge of fvalian insults in the future.”

Hovering nearby, Sebastian studies printouts of the mission description and a labeled map on the dining table. Bach sorts through the lists of information in front of him, and eases back into his chair. “I don’t, man. Something about this seems a bit off. The first reported incident happen a little over a week ago, and more came in quickly after that.”

Squinting at the map, Sebastian examines the highlighted points indicated, and contemplatively contorts his face as hints of suspicion rise to the surface. “Yeah, bro. The weird part of it is that the reports sound like people are discovering something that’s already been going on, rather than a new instance.”

Bach nods in agreement, flips through a few pages of report details, and cocks his head to the side. “That make some sense. Most of these locations are in big farms.”

Sebastian lifts an inquisitive brow, and gestures toward the literature of the accounts. “Did anyone mention what crops currently growing out there?”

Searching through the lines of text, Bach frowns slightly as he taps his finger down upon below a few phrases, and sighs. “Corn, sunflowers, and protellows.”

Humming in thought, Sebastian twists his mouth slightly, and grumbles. “Oh... So basically everything that’s tall, leafy, and hides everything within it.”

With a tight smile, Bach groans mildly frustrated. “Yep. That probably explains why all the reports came so quickly after each other. People checked the fields closely and finally started finding all the phenomena.”

Cideeda flicks her ears, raps a hand of claw tips on the tabletop, and finishes taking a swig from her drink. “Yeah, I’m still wondering about the rumbling noises and ground shaking. What was the description again...”

She traces a claw down a printout of text, settles upon a line, and reads it out. “Let’s see... It sounded and felt like someone was blasting out a rock with dynamite. I’d have to hear it myself. But a loud sound that shakes the ground? That makes me think something had to of blown up.”

Sebastian crosses his arms, sorts through his thoughts, and narrows his stare at the map. “Yeah. But what exactly?”

Aristespha glances over from the couch, rests her head upon the back rest, and directs her voice to the debate. “There are maelstrom anomalies that do explode given the right trigger. They typically don’t last long and I’ve never heard of them waiting this long after a maelstrom to go off.”

Mulling over the many possibilities, Sebastian relaxes his shoulders, frowns in temporary defeat, and gazes over the team. “Well, I don’t think we’re solving it today. We’ll just have to wait till we get there and see it for ourselves.”

Sotalia’s stomach growls quietly, and she blinks a moment before glancing over. “Anyone hungry? It’s getting close to lunch time.”

A mischievous, toothy grin appears on Cideeda’s face, and she presents an innocent tone. “Fval Spice?”

Sebastian smirks amused, and shakes his head. “You are wearing that place out.”

Cideeda finishes her drink, tosses the can in a perfect arc to the garbage can in the kitchen, and slowly pulls the key fob for the humvee out of her shorts pocket. “Hey, I’ll drive. Plus, you all have to see all the dents that AREN’T in the bodywork now.”

Glancing over with a smile, she winks to Bach as she walks towards the kitchen. “If all else fails, you have future in metal working.”

Bach blinks a moment, and narrows his eyes with a smirk as sarcasm colors his voice. “Oh good, I’m so happy by my post-adventuring career options are growing.”

Samantha excitedly twirls to a step forward, and grins in anticipation at Gerald. “I can’t WAIT for the ratings tonight! This going to be an amazing episode! Competition with the other team, family drama, and so much more!”

Gerald glances over from his aetherphone to Samantha, and contorts his neutral smile. “Yeah... I guess. It’s not everyday I get to almost witness a murder or two.”

Staring over to Gerald, Samantha crosses her arms with hints of defiance. “Oh, it’ll be fine. We’ve had far bigger actual fights on the show in previous seasons. But, nothing like the build up to this one. I knew the fight was going to be a big draw, but the father and son falling out at the end... Too perfect.”

She holds her ringing phone up and reads off caller identification on the screen. “It’s Howie! I bet he just viewed the raw episode and is calling us.”

Quickly placing the phone on a nearby desk, she taps an on-display button for the speakerphone and cheerfully chimes out. “Hey, Howie! Did you watch the episode?”

Summoning up a modicum of enthusiasm, Howard’s voice trickles through from the other side of the call and he sighs. “Yes. It’s going to do quite well. I think the ratings will be worth it... They better be.”

Samantha’s joy deflates down to confusion, and she puzzles out loud towards the phone. “You don’t sound all too thrilled there, Howie. What’s wrong?”

Gerald lifts an intrigued brow at the conversation and pries into the situation. “Yeah, usually you and Samantha would be plotting your next move to take over the world by now. Something happen?”

A long, exaggerated groan rolls into the room from the speakerphone, and Howie grumbles out his frustrations. “Well, it turns out that NO ONE on the investigation team cared to inform me that one of Trakenthin’s house mothers... IS A FUCKING LAWYER!”

Samantha and Gerald exchange wary looks, and shift their focus upon the voice coming out of Samantha’s phone. Howard’s growls out his aggravations and lists out his complaints. “Of all things to NOT bring to my attention! Not even a simple by the way one of his moms is a lawyer. No, I had to be on the phone ALL DAY with the legal department finding out how litigious and savage that woman is! It took everything I had to get them to allow tonight’s episode to even air. I had to basically promise them that we will still come out ahead if it aired and we had to eventually pay a settlement.”

Dragging a long exasperated sigh, he musters up his will to continue the conversation. “So... To say the least... NO MORE drama pieces involving Trakenthin’s family! Understood!?”

Samantha stares wide eyed at her aetherphone, and gradually nods with an awkward, uncomfortable smile. “Yes, of course, Howie. That shouldn’t be too difficult, and anyway we got the key pieces we need to make this episode... So... I’ll focus on other aspects for the next one.”

Howard calls through the other side of the conversation in a commanding tone. “Gerald! Make sure she does so. And, let the editing staff know to bury those clips with Trakenthin and Trenannin, and keep them from using them in as even background clips for intro and outros.”

Gerald quickly nods and twists his mouth into an uneasy agreement of the demanded terms. “Uh, yeah. You got it. I’ll message them right now.”

Samantha speaks at her phone with an apologetic tone. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”

With a long calming exhale, Howard draws in an equally long breath and wanders around in thought out loud. “It’s okay. No fault on you all. Really. It was my plan that backfired on me. So, that’s fine. I’ll be able to handle it well enough. Now... There is one thing you all can do for me.”

Gerald quirks his brow, and eyes the speakerphone warily. “And, what would THAT be?”

Howard hums in thought, and grumbles out his frustration. “If you overhear anything about what the rest of Trakenthin’s house does for a living... LET ME KNOW. He has his birth mother, three house mothers, and three house sisters. If there’s ANYTHING I should be on the lookout for, I NEED to know so I don’t get blindsided by another lawsuit, or worse. I dread to think of what else they might try to get back at me.”

He reiterates his sentiment and emphasizes his intention. “Seriously, if you even overhear enough to suspect that one of them is a current or retired black ops assassin, or someone who can get government permission to take someone out... FOR FUCK’S SAKE! LET. ME. KNOW!”