Episode 79

A strong high gust wind blows through the large, leafy tree in the side lot of the ranch style house. With each wave of ambient air, leaves high above rustle in a gentle, droning chorus, while thick metal targets hang from stands sway slightly in the flow. In the shade underneath, Cideeda slowly lifts her chest up off the workout mat, gently curves herself backwards, and constantly pushes herself up with her arms. During the long stretch of her back, she eases her breath, tips her head of short, multicolored hair back, and flicks her furry ears to the breeze. At the extreme extent of her flexibility, she digs her claw-tipped fingers into the mat, and presses her limits cautiously with a hint of a grimace. She holds the pose as her tail flicks and toes curl to the building strain. Quickly, she relaxes from the position, and lowers herself to relax back up the mat. Turning her head to the side, she sticks her tongue out with a stressed sigh. “So... That’s how far I can take that pose... A bit of an extreme... But, it really helps to keep the back nice and flexible.”

Sotalia stares with blinking golden eyes, and gawks dumbfounded at Cideeda’s previous demonstration. Gradually recovering her composure, she dons a playful smirk and rolls her eyes facetiously. “I am not going to lie, girl... You completely lost me after you made a right angle with your back.”

She tosses her fiery orange, wavy hair back, cycles a few breaths, and grips her workout mat tight with her long, thick black nailed fingers. “If I can even get close to halfway of THAT, I’ll be happy.”

Gritting her teeth, she focuses the determination on her face, and gradually lifts her upper torso off the ground. Crudely mimicking Cideeda’s performance, Sotalia strains to right herself against her less flexible, laden upper body, and contorts her expression with the stresses. Peaking at a near upright point, she holds her shaky position as the maneuver clashes with her body’s present limits. With pride driving her, she struggles to maintain the position for a number of seconds, and finally releases to quickly plop down with a slight bounce upon the work out mat. Catching her breath with arms out upon the surrounding grass, she rolls her head over to face Cideeda and blinks in a mild daze. “Gods almighty, how do you that to yourself?”

A toothy grin appears on Cideeda’s light brown face, and her emerald eyes gaze smugly over to Sotalia. “Oh, because I’m just that good.”

Crossing her arms in front herself and resting her chin upon them, Sotalia huffs out dismissively, leads a stray lock of hair over one of her swept back horns, and snorts amused. “Yeah, yeah... I’ll give you that much when it comes to THIS. Gods... I swear it felt like I was going to break myself in two there.”

Twisting her ill-humored smile, Cideeda directs a quip to Sotalia in fvalian with a trailing snicker. Sotalia blinks her golden eyes briefly, pushes her arms down to lift herself up, and glances down at her chest. Tugging at the tight fitting top, she inspects the faded material and frayed stitching, and narrows a mildly amused smirk at the quietly laughing Cideeda. “Oh, you joke, girl. But, I’ve had this top a long time. Not the first outfit that THAT has happened to.”

Rolling over onto her back, Cideeda stretches out her arms and legs, flexes her clawed fingers and toes, and rolls her eyes at herself. “At least, you don’t have claws. I’ve lost count the number of gloves and socks I’ve ruined with these things. But, I can remember the times they’ve saved me.”

Gazing up to the brief flits of sunlight sneaking between the leaves above in the thick canopy of the tree, she stills herself and closes her eyes with a thoughtful, subdued sigh. Her face twitches with heavier thoughts that weigh down her breaths, and she grimaces fighting off the mood. Sotalia concentrates her gaze upon Cideeda as a swell of concern rises in her expression. “So, how are you feeling? Really?”

Cideeda opens her eyes as awareness returns to her, and tilts her head towards Sotalia. “Good? I guess.”

Sotalia lifts an unconvinced eye brow, and focuses her inquisitive stare upon Cideeda harder. “You sure? After all you’ve been through?”

Twisting her mouth, Cideeda sits up with the upswing of her arms, and eases an uncomfortable exhale through her teeth. “I mean... I guess? I’m alive and healthy... And, the whole world didn’t blow up. So, a that’s good outcome.”

Sotalia pushes herself up, shifts her legs forward, and crosses her arms with an examining stare upon Cideeda. “Okay. I just wanted to be sure. Don’t need you repressing trauma to haunt you in the future.”

Cideeda narrows a gaze at Sotalia with a sly smirk, perk her brow, and chuckles lightly. “Don’t want the competition?”

Briefly flashing a mock glare at Cideeda, Sotalia grins proudly, flits her eyebrows up, and laughs with a faux arrogant tone. “Of course not! I’ve done a lot of stupid things and endured too much to earn my emotional baggage. Like hell I’m going to let some upstart outclass me in that department.”

Softening her expression, she levels her genuine concern toward Cideeda. “Seriously, though... That was one of the worst moments I’ve had to experience in my life. And if it hit me that badly... Well... I want to know how you are handling it. If, I’m not prying too much, girl.”

Cideeda pauses in thought, and internally drifts through her mind as her emerald green eyes sort between memories. “No, you’re not. I just think I’m processing it as well as I can? It’s really weird.”

Resting her hands out to her sides on the workout mat beneath her, she grits her teeth, wrestles a flit of emotion on her face, and releases an uneasy sigh. “I mean... Most the close calls I’ve had, just happened so quickly. I really didn’t have a chance to even think about it that much. I just reacted to the situation, and got clear... or clear enough. And, then it was dealt with.”

Subconsciously pressing her finger claws into her workout mat, Cideeda’s tail wags with an erratic undercurrent, and she frowns slightly with an emerging sad hint in her voice. “This time... I had way too much time to think about... everything. A lot hit me all at once, after I made the decisions. Not used to that at all.”

Nodding sympathetically, Sotalia’s golden eyes meet Cideeda’s emerald green eyes, and she smirks compassionately with a gentle sigh. “Nothing is worse than being left with your own thoughts during the worst times. Take it from someone with way too much experience in that. You never quite know what’s going to show up from the back of your brain when you give it too much of a chance.”

She presents a comforting smile to her friend, sits up straight, and brushes back her fiery orange hair over swept back horns. She averts her gaze briefly with a knowing grin. “I know you probably know this... And, have heard it a hundred times. But, we’re all here for you. So don’t be afraid to talk to us. Good ahead and pester me all you want, girl. Gods know, I’ve had to do plenty of that post bad day thinking before, and often really wanted someone else around to help me through it all.”

Cideeda curls her mouth to an appreciative smile, nods slightly to Sotalia, and draws in a relaxing breath. “Yeah, I’ve heard it a lot. But... It’s... Good to hear it again. I think I should be okay. Just sorting through it on my own right now.”

She cracks a slight grin, and relaxes some of the tension in her shoulders. “If not, I’ll definitely hit you up.”

Glancing around the surrounding shaded grasses under the leafy tree, she briefly checks towards front yard, stares at the main road, and ponders out loud. “Well, Aristespha and Dretphi should be back from running errands and getting lunch soon. So, I think we can try one more stretch.”

Swinging out to her sides, she deftly moves her legs into side splits, cocks her head questioning, and eyes Sotalia uncertainly. “How good are you at the splits?”

Sotalia lifts an incredulous brow at Cideeda’s display, contorts her mouth against her pride, and chuckles confidently. “I may be a little out of practice, but I should still have some flexibility left in me.”

Cideeda stifles a snort, bites her lower lip, and unleashes a prodding comment in fvalian. Sotalia narrows her stare, musters up an evil grin, and articulates a comeback fluently in a similar fvalian dialect with a sly tone. Flitting her emerald eyes wide, Cideeda expectantly twists the expression on her face, and fights back a flush of embarrassed red in her cheeks. Pointing a finger at Cideeda, Sotalia snorts out a laugh, and shakes her head in amused satisfaction. “Ha! I figured as much. You would TOTALLY use it to your advantage.”

Squirming to recompose her pride, Cideeda shrugs her shoulders nonchalantly. She rolls her eyes at the herself with a sweep of her long tail, and curls a guilty smirk as her furry ears flick. “No comment.”

Sotalia turns her focus ahead, unfolds her legs in front of herself, and braces her body with her hands out on the ground at her sides. “Well... Let’s see how rusty I am.”

With careful progression, she gradually eases her legs sideways, and slowly guides them further apart. Cideeda observes attentively and studies Sotalia’s movement. Arriving at a right angle between her feet, Sotalia stops pushing any further, takes a deep breath, and holds the position with a slight grimace. “Gods, as much as I want to show you up... Damn... I think that’s about all I can do right now. Really don’t want to chance it any further.”

Cideeda nods respectfully, and rests her hands on the tops of her thighs. “Honestly, that’s really good. Especially, if you haven’t stretched them out like that in a long time.”

Sotalia starts to ease her legs close, shifts her weight slightly forward, and rest her hands on her legs. “Still, I used to be able to do so much bet-”

Beneath her form fitting workout shorts, a large inner-thigh muscle quivers visibly for a moment and sharply tenses. Sotalia’s legs suddenly pull closed, and she rolls over onto the ground. Gritting her teeth, she screams out in a mix of anguish and anger. “AH! FUCK! GODS DAMMIT!”

Cideeda scrambles over next to the curled up and cursing Sotalia, and grabs hold of her as she spews forth a litany of curses in an intricate fabric of languages. Fighting against the pained flailing of Sotalia, Cideeda maneuvers the wailing half-emin onto her back, secures the afflicted leg, and carefully secures the limb for inspection. “Calm down! Let me see what’s going on!”

Sotalia musters up a fraction of composure, tightly grasps her horns, and breathes loud and tense. “Oh gods! Fuck! Dammit! I can’t BELIEVE it’s THAT same spot! WHY NOW?! It hasn’t bothered me in YEARS!”

Cideeda quickly finds the issues, cautiously feels the contracted muscle, and slowly shakes her head. “That’s really locked up. What helped it out before?”

Cringing while gritting her teeth, Sotalia works through the pain and growls out. “Massaging it! Just needs to massaged. SHIT! FUCK! OW!”

Grasping around the inner thigh, Cideeda studies the tension and presses her finger tips cautiously into the leg. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Inside the living area of the ranch style house, Bach quickly steps into the middle of the area from the hallway archway. He searches around the room for a noise, and aims his confused stare out the sliding glass door. Slowly plodding on the floor barefooted, he pulls up his loose fitting shorts, and brushes off his baggy t-shirt. A loud, shrill noise cuts through the muffling glass, and grabs Bach’s attention. He steps up to the sliding door, swings it open, and charges out into the backyard. Blinking worried, he darts his alert gaze around searching for the prior source of the noise. Sotalia squeals out in a torrent of pan-cultural swears. “STOP USING YOUR CLAWS!”

Cideeda yells back with blatant frustration in her voice. “Then roll over! I might get a better angle to press into it.”

Bach runs off to the side lot of the property next to the house, rounds the corner, and locks his gaze towards Cideeda and Sotalia. He approaches fast, and then slows to halt. Fighting through a haze of bewilderment and awkwardness, he puzzles at the sight of Sotalia face-down, tightly gripping her workout mat, and groaning with both of Cideeda’s hands between her thighs. Bach glances to either side of him, and cocks his head to the side. Obviously perplexed viewing the scene, and he calls out uncertainly. “Okay... Um... What the hell is going on? I heard the screaming from inside my room.”

Sotalia lifts her forehead up from the mat and growls out. “A fucking cramp!”

Flashing a glare back to Cideeda, Sotalia grumbles loudly. “And the claws AREN’T helping!”

Shaking her head, Cideeda lets go of Sotalia’s leg and holds her hands up in the air with a roll of her emerald green eyes. “I can’t reach the right muscle to massage without poking her.”

Bach resumes a fast pace over to Sotalia’s side, and gazes between Sotalia and Cideeda. “So, um, anything I can do to help?”

Sotalia twists her head back to glance to Bach, winces as she fights off a surge in muscle tension, and energetically directs Bach with a point of her finger. “Grab hold of it and massage it! OW! FUCK!”

Bach blinks dumbfounded, shifts his attention to Sotalia’s posterior and legs, and freezes as embarrassment and awkwardness paralyze him. “Uh... where... is... the... cr-”

Underneath the surface of Sotalia’s tight-fitting workout shorts, an inner thigh muscle abruptly tenses in erratic twitching spasms. Sotalia growls out frustration and pain, and clenches her fists. “SHIT! Why won’t it just stop already?!”

Bach focuses his attention upon the spot, widens his eyes briefly in a blend of surprise and curiosity, and leans closer to study the muscle. “Wow! THAT is a cramp.”

Hearing Sotalia whimper out her frustration, Bach powers through the awkwardness and discomfort to grasp tightly and massage the area. Minutes of experimentation and guidance from Sotalia and Cideeda, Bach works a firm pattern of applying moving pressure to soothe the spasm crazed muscle. As the process continues, Sotalia stretches out of her arms in front of her and recovers from her exhausting, painful experience with each long, calming breath. Cideeda gently pats Sotalia on the back of the shoulder to comfort her. “I think it’s calmed down finally.”

Fluttering her eyes open, Sotalia slowly crosses her arms, rest her chin on top, and sighs. “Finally... It hasn’t done that in so long...”

Bach continues to work the area in longer sweeping motions. Regaining her situational awareness, a sly grin graces Sotalia’s lips. She shifts her golden eyes to the side, slowly shrugs her shoulders, and requests with an alluring tone. “You know, since you did such a good job there... I have a few tense spots around my shoulders that could use YOUR touch.”

Pausing in his task, Bach’s thought process jams up from the sudden assault of awkwardness and situational awareness. Cideeda gazes over at the surge of embarrassment fueled red flush in Bach’s cheeks, narrows a glare at Sotalia, and presses a claw tip firmly into the side of Sotalia’s butt. “I think YOU need to GO INSIDE and rest until Aristespha gets back.”

Squelching a reflexive yip, Sotalia grumbles to herself briefly. She pushes herself off the workout mat, steadies herself with the help of Bach and Cideeda, and stands up. “Probably a good idea. Let’s get-”

A twitch of the muscle stops Sotalia from taking another step, and she groans annoyed. “Gods, I had almost forgotten how annoying this thing could get... Okay, if I can just keep it still and limp it-”

Another visible spasm happens with Sotalia’s attempt to move forward. She halts, and she balances her weight between Bach and Cideeda. Gritting her teeth, she drops her head down with painful resignation. “Shit, it’s still touchy. Oh gods, maybe if I-”

Thinking a moment and judging the distance, Bach kneels down slightly, and readies himself. “Here. It’s not too far. Let me carry you.”

With a careful sweep underneath, Bach tips Sotalia back in his arms, lifts her up with a little strain of his body, and carries her towards the sliding glass door. “We better not chance it right now.”

Sotalia glances around in surprise as Bach securely carries her. She squirms slightly against the physique keeping her aloft, and smirks guiltily. Cideeda rolls her eyes with a snort, and slides the back sliding glass door wider to allow Bach and Sotalia in.

Inside the living area, Sotalia watches anxiously as Aristespha closely examines the previously spasm prone muscle on the inside of her thigh. Cideeda stands nearby with her arms crossed, shifting weight between either foot, and maintaining a mix of intrigue and scrutiny. Bach stands nearby, idly surfing through the different channels on the television, and glancing over occasionally. Aristespha twist her expression thoughtfully, sits back on her ankles at the side of the couch, and ponders out loud. “Nothing too serious. Just a very strong muscle cramp. There is some residual tension in the muscles and minor cramps trying to happen.”

She closes her violet eyes briefly, reopens them to a glowing illumination, and pulls back her long silvery-blue hair over her very long, pointed ears. “I can do a few muscle release magical flows, and it should disrupt enough to allow the region to go back to normal.”

Bach turns his attention away from the screen, focuses his curiosity to Aristespha, and queries further. “How does that work?”

Aristespha glances over her shoulder briefly, smiles intrigued, and gestures Bach over. “It’s similar to dry needling. The process triggers an interrupting stimulus that causes the muscle to release. In fact, sit next to me, I think this something you can learn.”

Stepping around the pulled out coffee table, Bach settles in to seat next to Aristespha and his curiosity battles down the faint swells of anxiety as Sotalia smiles at him. “Are you sure? That’s sounds really like a proper medical procedure that should be done by someone who know what they’re doing. With years of training and one of those specialist certificates?”

Aristespha turns her head to face Bach, lifts an incredulous brow, and shakes her head. “It’s a simple pulse of flow utilizing energies you are more than capable of handling. The key thing is the amount and finer variables.”

Tilting her head to the side with an amused smirk, she furrows a knowing brow at Bach, and motions to Sotalia’s leg. “Which YOU should be able to pick up. Now mage sight here and watch me, please. I need to do a contrast pulse so I can get a better idea of what muscles are affected.”

Sotalia’s apprehension swells and she grits her teeth briefly. Glancing nervously around, she chuckles lightly and squirms slightly while trying to play down her unease. “You sure something like a needle is the right thing? I mean, Cideeda tried that already.”

Cideeda cracks a toothy grin, flexes the fingers on her hand, and blatantly admires her claws. “Well, with some proper guidance, I could try again and maybe get better results.”

Aristespha stares distantly upward for a moment at Sebastian’s ethereal form hovering above, rolls her eyes while shaking her head along with Sebastian’s sigh, and calls out towards the kitchen. “Dretphi? Could you assist me, please?”

Dretphi leans her tall frame out from the kitchen, shakes a stray platinum blonde braid out of the way, and nods. “Yes. How can I assist?”

As Dretphi approaches, Aristespha points towards Sotalia’s feet and projects a warning tone. “Grab hold of her legs. Sometimes the contrast flow pulse can trigger other minor spasms, and I don’t feel like getting a knee to the face.”

Sotalia's golden eyes flit wide when Dretphi clamps down her grip on her ankles, and she braces herself uncertainly. Sebastian’s ghostly visage lands next to the arm of the couch Sotalia’s head rests upon, and whispers comfortingly in her ear. “Take it easy. You know she knows what she’s doing.”

With an appreciative sigh, Sotalia nods and grumbles. “I know... I know... But gods, I don’t want that cramp to go off again. That REALLY fucking hurt.”

Aristespha quickly gestures through a short incantation, flows energies to her finger, and gently presses the tip against Sotalia’s inner thigh. Bach blinks his eyes to a bright blue glow and observes the magical power at play. With exacting finesse, Aristespha releases a faint pulse of flow and narrows her examining stare upon the target area. As the energies propagate throughout the different tissues, faint tremors of muscle activity cascade out in fading spasms. The spectacle captivates Bach's attention and his awareness of the world wanes with his focus filtering out distractions. As the contrast pulse dissipates to its outmost range, Sotalia momentarily winces and reflexively grabs hold of Bach’s upper arm in surprise at the odd sensation. Jarring him back to reality, Bach glances over to Sotalia and puzzles. “You okay?”

Sotalia notices her grip, releases it slowly with a smile, and nods. “Yes. It just felt weird ,and I thought a muscle was going to go off.”

Bach presents an understanding smirk, and shifts his attention to study Aristespha’s procedure. Sotalia eyes over to Bach’s arm, and catches Dretphi’s gaze. She subtly points to Bach’s arm, gestures by curling hers, and mouths out her surprise to Dretphi. With a strong hint of pride, Dretphi grins faintly, and nods in confirmation. Minutes later, Aristespha blinks her violet eyes back to normal, sits back on her ankles, and rolls her shoulders to relax. “That should calm down the muscles in that region. I would still relax for a few hours, and avoid strenuous activity for the rest of the day.”

Sotalia reaches out towards the out of reach coffee table for the remote. Bach picks the device up, and passes it over. Sotalia nods thankfully, resettles upon the couch, and releases a long sigh. “Not a problem there. I just hope something is on.”

Bach ponders a moment, and turns his head towards Aristespha with an inquisitive tone. “In that one muscle group, I keep noticing a difference in flow. Like there’s was a rough patch.”

Aristespha nods in agreement, and explains with a matter of fact tone. “Very likely an old injury that’s healed over time. The amount and density of replacement muscle cells can create that type of flow phenomena.”

Blinking a moment, she aims an intrigued lift of the brow at Sotalia, and cocks her head to the side. “Old gymnastics or workout injury?”

Sotalia thinks a moment, rolls her eyes to stop to spark a glare at Sebastian, and snorts. “You could say that.”

Catching the familiar tone, Sebastian notices the visual insinuation, and remains silent with a goofy smile failing to hide past embarrassment. Aristespha shakes her head with a laugh, and stands up. “Well, those type of injuries can happen.”

Bach rights himself up, walks over to his chair next to the other side of the couch, and sits down. As the rest of the team disperses to their own tasks, Bach and Sotalia keep their attention on the television. After a commercial, a local news report bit pops up.

“Investigators have turned up more evidence of recent activity by the People for Dragon Rights group in the Amaranth Valley area. Along with previous disruptive activities in the mass release of fancy whelps at a show, recent antics have backfired during an attempt to free a small herd of pseudo-dragons from their pens. Attempts to push sleeping pseudo-dragons out of their stables, incidentally, tipped one over on top of a group member, temporarily pinning them underneath the irritated creature. Investigators are still looking for more information about these individuals, and urge anyone with information to please contact local authorities.”

Bach sneers his upper lip, groans out his disgust, and shakes his head. “Oh gods... THOSE assholes.”

Sotalia perk her brow, tilts her head towards Bach, and puzzles. “Huh? What do you mean? They seem well meaning... if really, really inept.”

Contorting his face into a few derisive grimaces, Bach grumbles out a sigh, and shrugs his shoulders. “There was a real big chapter of that group that hung out around High Alton. And, they gave me, Sebastian, Kaleb, and Shadeesa all kinds of hell because... we kept a dragon as a pet.”

Fighting an incredulous hoist of an eyebrow, Sotalia narrows a curious stare at Bach and pries for more information. “Really? They always seem to champion good things. How bad could they be?”

Bach hold up his finger to Sotalia to focus her attention, and directs his voice down the hallway. “Hey, Sebastian! Get over here! I got something to tell you.”

A few seconds later, Sebastian hovers into the living around through archway leading the hallway, and gazes down at Bach. “What do you got, bro?”

A sly smirk appears on Bach’s face, and he taps the tips of both hands of fingers together. “Guess who’s in town?”

Sebastian thinks a moment, focuses a suspicious stare Bach, and crosses his arms. “Who?”

Twisting a smile, Bach holds his hands out to his side, and darkly chuckles. “Our friends... PDR.”

Confusion flashes up on Sebastian’s ethereal form, and furious recognition slams the prior expression back into oblivion. “AH FUCK! REALLY?! SHIT...”

As Sebastian rubs his ghostly temples and wanders in frustrated circular paths in the open area, Cideeda and Dretphi rest down plates of food on the dining table, exchange stares, and look upon the scene. Cideeda crosses her arms, flicks her furry ears, and perk her brow. “What did those guys do to you two?”

Sebastian grumbles to a slow regain of his composure, mulls over the right choice of words, and twists his mouth. “They just constantly gave us shit for almost a year. It got so bad, we could hardly even take Lagi out for walks without scouting the area out first. And, the leader decided to get into an argument over dragon care with Shadeesa... AFTER, she was well into her exotic veterinarian program.”

Bach's blue eyes widen as a distant memory rises to the front of his mind, and grits his teeth. “Oh... Gods... I thought I was going to witness a murder that night.”

Cracking a sly grin toward Bach, Sebastian chuckles darkly with pride for his brother. “It wasn’t until Lagi learned a particular fire spell... SOMEHOW... That they finally kept their distance. They were CONVINCED to go bother other people after Lagi starting spitting fire at them.”

Sotalia furrows her brow, and focuses an examining stare upon Bach. “Really?”

Noticing the directed attention, Bach twists his mouth uncomfortably and tries to shrug off the guilt. “Turns out Lagi was a very observant little dragon, and really liked that fire marble spell... I was PRACTICING that one night.”

Sebastian hoists a partially accusatory eyebrow at Bach, and colors his tone with a mix of sarcasm and amusement. “Yes, the fire marble spell. That entry level, practice spell, often done by high school students in a basic magic course... That YOU... for some reason... desperately needed an all day refresher course on... in front of Lagi attentive gaze.”

Sotalia draws a wide evil grin on her face as she gazes at Bach, thoroughly amused. Cideeda and Dretphi twist their expressions in a mix of humor and surprise. Aristespha peeks out from the hallway archway, and lifts an intrigued brow. Bach glances around at the attention, releases a defeated sigh, and shakes his head. “Yeah... Well, just don’t bring it up with Shadeesa. Please? I think she’s still... a little mad... still? I mean, she did lose some really expensive clothes that one time, because Lagi using that spell.”

Pausing to catch a thought his subconscious tosses up, Sebastian directs a concerned voice to Bach. “Speaking of which... Bro, could you send both Kaleb and Shadeesa a message? Even though they’re not that close to here, we should warn them.”

Sorting through the menus on his aetherphone, Bach nods in complete agreement, and starts typing out a message. “Yeah, I’m on it. And as big as Lagi has gotten, he’s quite figuratively AND literally a big target for them.”

Dretphi hums in thought, and slowly shakes her head. “Did not think they were confrontational. Comically incompetent? Yes. Misguided? Yes.”

Sebastian rolls his eyes, shrugs his shoulders, and holds his hands out to the sides. “They just focus on the big, easy to see problems. Stuff that looks good and they get done quickly, so they pat themselves on the back afterwards. You never see them helping out at the shelters, or doing fund raisers for anyone other than themselves.”

He shakes his head and sighs. “The real solutions to the real problems take time, and aren’t glamorous enough for them.”

Bach’s aetherphone chirps out an alert, and he taps onto the on display pop up. Sebastian floats over next to Bach, and peeks to the phone screen. “Kaleb or Shadeesa?”

Holding up his aetherphone, Bach snorts with a crooked smirk. “Kaleb. His response... Oh, gods fucking dammit. And, I think he was using the voice to text function? Because it might have caught Shadeesa’s response, too? These are emin letters, I think?”

Sotalia carefully scoots over on the couch to the other side, directs an expectant gaze to Bach, and hems. Bach notices Sotalia, glances at his aetherphone, and hands it over to Sotalia. With golden eyes quickly scanning the text, Sotalia blinks blankly, hands the phone back, and whistles faintly. “That is NOT a happy woman.”

A peaceful ambiance radiates throughout the dense forest. Thick patches of undergrowth soak in the patches of bright sunlight slipping through the thick canopy of competing trees. Powerful gusts of wind filter through the countless gaps between the leaves, and sound out a droning chorus of rustling below. Within a carefully arranged circle of rocks, a low fire singes the prepared carcass of a small game animal propped above it. A leather gloved hand reaches out, grasps tightly upon a leg, and secures the cooked limb. A sharp dagger with a glinting edge pushes into the connective tissues around the joint, and effortlessly slices the meaty leg free from the rest of the roasted body.

The lone evuukian man bites calmly into the cooked flesh, and grumbles lowly in a dialect of evuukian with a calculating tone to himself. Slowly chewing, he straightens his posture while sitting on a log, and adjusts leather armored outfit upon him. Noticing the build up of pollen and dirt, he brushes of the intricate details within the aged and worn suit, and slowly cleans the magically reflective emblems. Tossing his long, black hair back, he contorts his light-gray, green hinted face and narrows his distant brilliant yellow eyed stare. He continues munching upon the cooked leg, and turns his attention to a pile of equipment at his side. Sifting through the gear under the swaying, leafy shade, he carefully sets an elaborately designed, exceptionally crafted bow to the side, and slides over a handmade leather quiver filled with meticulously made arrows. Flits of magical light flicker off from nearly invisible flowing patterns inlaid upon the equipment as they rest upon the ground.

With a firm grip, the man hoists up a battered field radio unit, and sets it up next to him. Turning on the unit with a twist of a knob, he taps a number of buttons in a well rehearsed series of steps, and the device displays a fast changing series of numbers with sweeping indicators. The digits halt, the encoded contents play out through a speaker on the unit, and the man presses a button. Over the next minute, the process repeats, and the man sighs with tinges of frustration. Upon flipping to another band of frequencies, the device settles upon a channel and a broadcast plays out.

“In our ongoing coverage of the sudden GAA activity in Ark, public relations representatives from the GAA have released official statements about troop movements into the Ark river peninsula. From the official release, it seems a previously unknown facility, long abandoned, was discovered due to tips from the public describing strange activity in the area. During initial investigations, GAA specialists discovered a possible threat to the public and successfully dealt with problem before it could lead to endangering the citizens living in the area...”

Pausing right before taking another bite, the evuukian man slowly angles his emerging glare upon the radio, sneers his upper lip, and growls quietly to himself. Reaching into a nearby backpack, he puts his arm further in than he height of the container, and retrieves a long, rolled up document. Spreading out of the thick and aged paper of the detailed map, the man surveys the many markings of locations with extensive notes and symbology. He searches the information, and settles his gaze upon a circled spot in the middle of a river peninsula. Pulling out a marker from one of the backpack’s side pouches, he slowly drags an “X” out upon the paper with a low growl articulating his simmering frustration.

He pauses in thought and examines the map. He studies the many other locations, and scowls with a slow shake of his head. Narrowing his eyes upon another spot on the document, he nods to himself, rolls the map back up, and deposits it into the darker space of the backpack. Flashes of sunlight from above beam down through the swaying branches, briefly illuminate the greater capacity within the bag, and highlight a mix of old artifacts and collections of documents.

Pulling a strip of meat off the cooked leg, he grits his teeth in swelling anger and groans annoyed in a distant stare. Squinting in thought, he searches his own mind and grumbles in spiteful evuukian. At the apex of his quiet rant, he narrows a stern glare and flickers of faint white spark in the centers of his eyes.

A hard rain rolls out in sheets across the mostly empty parking lot. The droning patters of drops rush the front glass wall of the small restaurant, and spatter against the surface. Meredosia’s crimson eyes stare distantly out to the drenching winds, as waves drift across the wet surface of the pavement outside. After a minute of staring, the screen her battered aetherphone dims, and she blinks back to reality. Glancing down upon the display, she taps it back to full brightness, and idly scrolls through the text on an aethersite. Humming to herself, she rests the device down on the small table next to the kitchen entryway, and presses the link on the screen. After a weak flash on the horizon, muffled thunder vibrates the glass store front.

Meredosia brushes back her long, gray away from her ivory face, draws in a long breath, and stares at her aetherphone as light hints of annoyance slip out. Rolling her eyes at the loading indicator prominent on the screen, she watches dim illumination of the stormy afternoon through the vinyl “Fval Spice” on the glass front door. Seeing no difference in the weather, she shifts her attention to a worn, aged notebook, and flips to a new page. Picking up a wooden pencil off to the side, she taps on the blank paper and twists her face thoughtfully. Slowly, her left hand gracefully brushes the graphite tip, and sketches out rough shapes and shades. Her crimson eyes focus upon the developing picture, and a faint smile creeps out from the corner of her mouth.

Brushing his hands on his apron, Noyando steps out from the back of the kitchen, flicks the graying tips of his furry black ears, and contorts his light brown face thoughtfully. Pondering the weather outside, he glances over at to the wall clock, frowns slightly, and shrugs his shoulders plainly. “No more deliveries, today, Mera. To go and dine in only.”

Mera blinks back to attention, gazes over to Noyando, and nods with growing relief. “Oh. Thank you. To be honest, I really didn’t want to have to ride out in this.”

Noyando shakes his head and sighs with a jutting canine smile. “I would not want you out there right now. Anyway, you can help with getting ready for the dinner rush.”

As Mera agrees and begins to get up from the seat, Noyando holds his hand out and motions for Mera to stay seated. “Not now. It’s not busy, so I will cook your diner. What do you want tonight?”

Mera settles back down in her seat, thinks a moment, and decides with a happy tone. “Oh, I want to try that one dish you recommended. Please?”

A proud grin appears on Noyando, and he nods as he pivots into back into the kitchen area entrance. “Of course. I will start right now.”

Mera’s very long ivory ears perk up subtly under her gray hair, and she returns her attention to refining the sketch in her notebook. Glancing over to her aetherphone, she taps the screen back on, enters the security code, and resumes reading the new aethersite text. As Mera browses, a younger fvalian girl wanders out from the kitchen area with a battered tablet in her hands. She briefly frowns at the constant rain and gray skies outside, glances over to Mera, and steps over to a chair on the other side of the table. Sliding the chair out, the fvalian girl hops up into the seat, places her tablet on the tabletop, and idly searches through a partially cracked screen for a game on the menu. Mera shifts her attention to the child momentarily, quirks her brow, and resumes filling in the finer details of her sketch.

The fvalian girl presses firmly on the screen until it responds, watches a loading symbol appear, and frowns slightly. As the bar slowly creeps along, her black furry ears droop close to her shoulders, and she sighs impatiently. Idly kicking her legs under the chair as the seconds tick on by, her attention drifts around the room and searches for anything else going on. After exhausting the contents of the room around her and the same stormy gray outside, she settles her gaze upon Mera’s notebook and stares attentively. Her furry black ears perk up and her light brown eyes widen with curiosity. As Mera continues to glide her pencil skillfully over the evolving picture, the young fvalian girl unconsciously leans closer and closer over time, to the work in progress. She stares at in it growing wonder. Gazing her light brown eyes up towards Mera, the fvalian girl smiles brightly. “That’s really pretty. You’re really good.”

Mera blinks back to awareness, glances up to meet the fvalian girl’s eyes, and awkwardly smiles, hiding some embarrassment. “Oh, um... Thank you. It’s not done, yet. I still have a lot more to do.”

Thinking a moment, she tilts her head to the side and plainly asks. “I’ve seen you around here. But, I haven’t caught your name. What is it?”

Flicking her ears, the fvalian girl perks up and grins with sharp smile. “My name is Katelli. You are Mera. You are always taking food out. And riding the scooter.”

With nod, Mera chuckles lightly and cracks a small smile. “Yes, I am.”

Katelli quickly shifts her attention to a chime from her tablet, stares at it for a second, and sighs as it struggles to load the game. Mera squints her eyes at the screen, frowns slightly, and shakes her head. “Is it broken?”

With a mildly frustrated growl, Katelli rolls her eyes and shrugs her shoulders. “I don’t know. It’s just SO OLD. It takes FOREVER to do anything. The screen is all scratchy, too.”

Mera nods sympathetically, lifts up her aetherphone off the table top, and shows it to Katelli. “I know how you feel.”

Katelli glances over at the battered device, giggles appreciatively, and smiles. “Wow! It’s as old as my tablet. Does it take FOREVER to do stuff, too?”

Turning the phone back to her, Mera taps a new link on the aethersite, and places it back down on the table. Katelli slides her tablet over next to the aetherphone. Mera and Katelli watch as the devices progress bars gradually slide along their ponderous paces. Katelli leans over with her elbows on the table, snickers with a wide grin, and wags her tail. “Which one will win?”

With a humored snort, Mera rolls her eyes with a smile, and shakes her head. “I don't think either of them really win. They just don’t lose as bad as the other.”

Katelli giggles at the comment, and her attention drifts back to Mera’s sketch. She stares captivated at the details in the surrounding forest framing, the overlook into a huge clearing between massive trees, and the plant covered ancient buildings. She blinks and tilts her head intrigued at the two evuukians sitting next to each other and gazing into the clearing. Flicking her ears in thought, Katelli stares at her slow loading tablet for a moment, and glances over to Mera’s notebook and pencils.

Sitting briefly back down, she hops out of her chair, walks over behind the front counter, and almost disappears out of view. With Katelli’s tail wagging out, sounds of shuffling and noises of movement fill in the air briefly. Seconds later, Katelli reappears with a pad of order tickets and a pen. She rushes back over, slips back into the chair, and puts the pad down. With a happy smile, Katelli’s ears perk, and she starts putting the pen to the paper. “I’m going to draw something, too.”

Mera puzzles a moment. Watching Katelli start to scratch out the first lines on the pad of tickets, a delighted smile gradually emerges over time upon her face. In between filling in spots of detail upon her sketch, Mera pauses to follow the progress of Katelli’s drawing. As the storm rolls on across the parking lot, Mera and Katelli compare doodles and dysfunctional portable devices to the growing aroma of food in the small restaurant.