Episode 85

The thunderous, overwhelming roar of water ripping through the canopy fills the saturated air under the tall trees. Harsh jets of rain pound the forest floor and spray up into a thick, obscuring mist throughout. Darting out through a cloud of the damp haze, Deedri leaps over a large shrub, slides along the muddy game trail, and tumbles into a soaked patch of moss. She scrambles behind the wide trunk of a tall tree, and squeezes herself into a rain shadow. Pressing her back against the bark, she reflexively pierces her claws deep into the outer layers of the oak, and stares distantly in wide-eyed terror out into the curtains of rain and deep fog hiding the forest. Flicking her furry ears, she closes her eyes and sorts through assault on her senses from the deluge around her. Seconds of hunting later, traces of tension leave her body, and she slows her frightened panting. Glancing around the area, she inspects her soaked outfit, muck covered boots, and drenched long, multi-colored hair. She slides her large backpack off, carefully opens the top, and eases a sigh of relief as she confirms the contents. Pausing a moment to sort through her frantic thoughts, she draws in a long breath, lifts her head back against the bark of the oak tree, and whispers to herself. “Oh... Fuck...”

Gazing out aimlessly into the watery chaos surrounding her tiny reprieve under the barely sheltering tree, she frowns into a grimace, rests her face in the palm of her hand, and mutters fvalian curses at herself. Her furry ear twitches and perks around the tree. Carefully peeking around the corner, she secures her backpack, readies herself, and waits silently. Through the haze and noise, Deedri’s ears pick through the acoustic chaos and track new sounds.

Slaps of boots against mud, a splatter of water, and loud shift of wet rocks rise from the background. After a hard, large smack against unforgiving mud, a familiar voice mutters out a string of evuukian curses, and Modoran swiftly slides down a fresh stream of muddy water. The gravity sails him down the hill and the current washes him in the middle of a large trail. Laying on his stomach, Modoran remains still and grumbles out his pride with frustrated huffs. After a few moments, he pulls his arms underneath himself, pushes his mud covered self into a seat in the pooling water, and releases a defeated sigh.

With a growing smile on her fair skinned face, Deedri's auburn eyes flit wide, and she directs a loud whisper. “Modoran!”

Modoran’s long, pointed ears twitch, and he meets Deedri’s gaze and presents a relieved, awkward grin on his dusky bluish gray face. Blinking his dark blue eyes, he smiles with genuine relief, and weakly chuckles as he glances over himself. “Deedri... I hope you’re doing better than I am.”

Lifting a thick braid of her hair, Deedri squeezes the bundle tightly, and drains out a significant amount of water. “About the same.”

She walks over from the cover of oak, reaches out her hands to assist Modoran, and scans the vicinity. “Did you find any shelter better than a tree?”

Modoran graciously holds onto Deedri’s hands, pulls himself up, and pushes off the coats of mud on his pants. “Not yet. I’ve just been running around trying to find anyone else.”

Deedri nods, gazes out, and shakes her head. “I know. It’s just been crazy... I just now started to really think... How lost I am.”

With a comforting smile, Modoran chuckles as the sheets of rain blast layers of mud off his jacket and backpack. “You’re not the only one. But, there’s two of us now. So... I’m sure we can figure out a plan now.”

Nodding with a lighter expression, Deedri narrows her stare and points out towards a sparser section of forest. “I think there’s a clearing that way, maybe it’s worth checking out?”

Stepping up to search the distance in the same direction, Modoran agrees with a curious twist of his mouth, and focuses his attention downwards at an outline in the thick mist. “Yeah... Huh, that looks like a building... Maybe?”

Deedri lifts herself up on her toes, peeks over a line of tall shrubs obscuring her view, and glances back to Modoran. “Might as well see. Anything is better than soaking out here.”

Carefully traversing the slope, Deedri and Modoran climb down the slippery hill through the constant barrage of rain, and push through a wall of brush together. Looking over at the small stone building, the two rush around to the front facing a large clearing, and slip through the entryway. Out of the constant downpour, Deedri puzzles at the huge field within the haze and the barely visible silhouettes of trees surrounding the area through through the mist. “This clearing is huge, and look at these trees!”

Modoran narrows his stare and focuses through the sheets of rain and foggy air. “It looks like there’s other buildings, but I can’t see anything clearly.”

He turns around, stares down the dark, central hallway, and grimaces uncomfortably. “This place doesn’t seem inviting. Need to get some light...”

Deedri ponders a moment, holds her hands close together, and focuses. With a flicker of auburn in her eyes, magical flows condense around her clawed fingers, and she mutters a series of incantations with slight gestures. A small, floating orb glows brighter with the energy collecting inside of it, and flashes to a bright blue-white illumination. Modoran blinks as his eyes adjust and smiles appreciatively. “Nice. Much better than my aetherphone.”

Holding the glowing sphere in her hand, Deedri walks along with Modoran, and the two step warily down the long corridor towards an open heavy door. They stop midway through and notice locked side chambers behind bars. Deedri’s ears droop, and she grits her teeth uneasily. “Does this feel like a...”

Modoran nods with an uncomfortable grimace. “Jail? Yeah. Yeah, it does. But, I don’t think it’s been used in a while.”

Both arrive at the doorway. Modoran carefully inspects it, peeks through the opening for obvious trouble, and gradually pushes door. Deedri holds the light out, and both survey the room. Modoran shrugs his shoulders at the small space with a simple cot, and glances over to Deedri. “Honestly, a lot nicer than what I was expecting.”

Deedri pushes the glowing orb up and watches it float up to stick to the roof. She releases a long sigh, slumps her shoulders, and buries her face between her hands. “Gods, it’s just nice to be out of the rain.”

Modoran chuckles lightly, scratches the back of his head awkwardly, and shrugs. “Yeah. I think we should hold up here for now. I’m really not up for wandering around aimlessly in the rain.”

Deedri slowly rocks her head in silent agreement, and remains quiet in her thoughts and uncomfortable breaths. Listening to the slight shudder in Deedri’s sighs, Modoran takes off his backpack, rests it on the ground, and steps behind Deedri. Lifting gently on Deedri’s large pack, he politely asks and motions his head towards the wall. “Is it okay if I put this over there?”

Blinking her auburn eyes back to awareness, Deedri lifts her face up, thinks a moment, and nods appreciatively. “Oh... Yes... Thank you.”

Deedri slides out of heavy pack, and Modoran hoists the weight over to a spot next to the wall with a gentle drop. Brushing off some dust and debris from the cot, Modoran directs Deedri’s attention with a kind smile. “Sit down for a bit.”

Deedri glances over at the cot, studies her soaked clothing, and shakes her head. “Let me get these off. I don’t want to drench the only dry place to sit.”

Quickly finding the zipper to her top, Deedri loosens up the decorative garment, and slips out of it. Wringing out the excess water on her loose undershirt, she fans some of airflow down the collar of her light body suit, and holds the sopping wet top in her other arm. She notices Modoran stiffly facing the other direction, and extending his arm towards her. Modoran musters up his voice through flush hints on his cheeks. “Um, I know a spell or two to dry clothes if you want me to... Um... Dry them for you.”

After a moment of self-consciousness arranging her undershirt to be more presentable, Deedri cracks an amused smirk, and places the top on Modoran’s awaiting arm. She quickly undoes the fasteners for her long skirt, and unsticks her shorts off her leggings. Placing the bottom garment in Modoran’s arms, she lightly taps a claw on his shoulder, and cranes around his side with a smile. “Thank you for being considerate, but I’m decent.”

Modoran nervously laughs, nods as he finds a place to hang up the soaked clothing, and works the embarrassment off his face. “Oh, yeah. I’ll get these dried off for you.”

Quickly gesturing through an incantation, Modoran directs flows of magical energy to his hands, and methodically motions over the clothing hung on the heavy door, each pass guiding water off onto the floor. Deedri eases herself onto the cot, slowly breathes out her nerves, and drifts off into her mind. Minutes pass by in comparative silence, with Deedri searching through the her thought with frown and Modoran focusing his attention upon pulling water out of clothes. After finishing an initial pass with Deedri’s garments, Modoran glances over and asks. “I’m going to try to dry off my clothes if you don’t mind.”

Deedri blinks out of her trance, shakes her head, and refocuses her attention. “Oh, no. Go ahead.”

Unzipping his jacket and pulling off his pants, Modoran strips down to his damp shirt and shorts, and finds some old metal loops in the stone wall to hang the clothing from. Deedri's eyes drift over towards Modoran and she stares. After a few seconds, her conscious mind realizes the situation, and she redirects her thoughts with a question. “Um... So... How do you know these types of spells and tricks? Clothes drying, towel arrangements, and knowledge of resort booking?”

Modoran shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly, chuckles to himself, and glances over to Deedri with a grin. “A bunch of random stuff I picked up from part time jobs with my family’s businesses.”

Deedri blinks, searches her mind, and perks her furry, damp, tufted ears. “Wait, what businesses does your family own? I talked to your mother and sisters for hours, and they never mentioned anything to me.”

Rolling his eyes, Modoran snorts and shakes his head. “Not surprised. They were on vacation and happy to talk anything else. But... It’s a whole collection of different hotels, motels, and resorts. No central brand, on purpose. My mother and father know all them by heart. My older sister probably is getting there.”

The idea distracts Deedri briefly with an intrigued smirk, but other pressing thoughts quickly force a frown on her face. As she remains silent and staring blankly, her wavering breaths and shaky hands catch Modoran’s attention. Stepping over, Modoran glances down at Deedri with concern. “Deedri, are you okay?”

Deedri twists her mouth, droops her ears, and uncertainly fumbles over her words. “I don’t know. We’re lost... We’re separated from the group... There’s some gods awful spirit driving a death drone around after us. And... I’m supposed to be the medical mage out to help anyone who could be injured right now. But... All I can do right now is... cower in hole, scared and clueless what exactly to do next.”

Watching the distress grow apparent on Deedri, Modoran clears away his idle, nonchalant exterior, musters up his confidence, and kneels down in front of Deedri. Meeting her auburn eyes with his dark blue gaze, he smiles reassuringly and places a gentle hand on Deedri’s shoulder. “The best we can do is survive, so we can have a chance to help everyone else. There’s no point in us wandering around the storm. Let’s see if we can get our aetherphone radio transponders working. Meanwhile, we’ll dry out, rest up, and calm ourselves down so we can think straight. We can figure this out.”

Deedri gazes into Modoran eyes, and a hopeful smirk emerges upon her face. She shifts her attention over as she feels the faint trembling of Modoran’s hand on her shoulder. Placing her hand upon his, she smiles at him and holds onto his hand. Seconds later, Deedri glances over to the space on the cot next to her, and genuinely asks. “You want to sit down for awhile?”

Modoran blinks out of his trance, nods quickly, and eases himself onto the cot. The two enjoy the peaceful moments in the small room with the ambiance of the rain hammering the outside world. Deedri shivers briefly, wags her tail awkwardly, and grumbles as she feels the water logged fur. Pausing in a thought a moment, she bites her lower lip. “Do you have any spells that can help dry my tail out?”

An amused smile appears on Modoran’s face, and he nods slowly as he preps a spell. “I’ve got one that’s basically like a hairdryer.”

Deedri flops her damp tail up in her hands, and combs a bit of it out with her claw tips. “Gods, that sounds so nice right now.”

Rolling walls of water dump through the battered canopy above and pound the brush below. Tripping over a large tree root, Veevi slides belly first down a muddy game trail, and splashes down a long decline head first into a murky pool. Lifting her head up from the muck, she spits out a the dirt saturated water, and peels her soaked mop of pink hair out of her eyes. Panting in near exhaustion, she darts her spooked stare around the disorientating haze and constant watery onslaught at the thinning edge of the forest. Her gaze settles upon a large stone structure in front of her. Blinking to realization, she stumbles up to her feet, searches the area, and slinks towards the building. Standing under an overhang, she presses her back against the exterior wall, and breathes a few sighs of relief. Listening to the surges of rain blast the other side of the building, Veevi peeks around the corner and pans her glance across the open field within the obscuring mist and the front of the old, stone structure. Spotting an archway, she darts across, quickly checks the entryway, and rushes out of the storm before another blast of water washes over.

Inside the dark, she stands dripping in her tight fitting outfit, and nervously gawks into the shadowy surroundings. A distant slam booms out. A pink furred tail slips out of view behind an upturned table, and Veevi shudders in fright as her fuzzy ears twitch to the eerie quiet of inside against the rhythmic deluge outside. Tense minutes later, her pink pupil eyes uncertainly dart around the area, as the interior silence looms. Easing out a breath, Veevi eases the tension out of her shoulders and slumps behind the debris surrounding the toppled table top.

Summoning up the little nerve in herself over the eerie minutes, she quietly rises back on her feet, glances around, and ventures deeper down large central hallway. Faint sources of light from distant outside sources break up the surrounding darkness in the tall, echoing corridor. Veevi stops midway, grimaces, and holds her hands together. Mumbling to herself, she winces in concentration, strains her body, and focuses her gaze hopefully to her palms. Seconds later, faint flows of magic condense to form a dull ball of light that provides a modest amount of illumination. Gritting her teeth nervously, Veevi surveys the area around her. The dim glow projects a light to the scene around at the intersection before massive, broken doors. Shifting her gaze between shattered furniture, cracked bows, and random objects piled up, Veevi’s horror grows. She catches the glints of bullet and shell casings in stark contrast against blackened scorch marks on the floor and walls. She freezes in a surge of horror as she fights against recognizing the dried, morbidly shaped pools and smears scattered through the area.

A bright flash erupts from nearby windows and Veevi freezes in wide-eyed fright through the loud crash of thunder. In a panic, she runs through the double doors, frantically panting. In the barely lit, echoing chamber, she trips over a few steps and tumbles into a shallow, circular pit. Pulling herself back together, she forces herself to flow more energy into the dull glowing orb in her hand. With the extra light, she sits up in the middle of a round depression in the floor with surrounding, shattered steps. Veevi blinks in confusion at the crushed masonry, the deep gouges in the floors, and tool marks around shallow, circular pit. Her wandering stare surveys the huge chamber, desks of scattered papers, shattered magical equipment, and shelves of empty bookcases. Wrapping her arms close to herself, she notices a stairwell in the corner, and scrambles over in a surge of fright.

Quickly moving through the halls, Veevi steps around remnants of strange scenes. Fighting fear, she glances into a room beyond torn down doors, and halts at the remains of a master bedroom. Stepping over into the room, she carefully, awkwardly walks through the recognizable furniture in the mix of chaos and upheaval. Slowly exploring the upturned room, she finds elaborate, nature themed garments in the debris, and a mostly intact mattress with nearby sheets strewn over the area. Relaxing her breathing, she briefly puzzles at an empty compartment in the floor next to the overturned bed. Pausing in her thoughts, she feels her damp clothing as the wind blows into the room from an open window in the small connecting bathroom. She picks through the clothing in the debris and settles upon the mattress.

Slowly marching through the torrent, Trakenthin leans against a tree, lifts his large arm across his helmeted forehead, and shields the rain from the aetherphone in his other hand. Squinting through the harsh spray of water splattering on his visor, he watches an array of signal strength bars pulsate to different heights on his the display. Two reach near the highest point of the scale, and two others slowly rise with each oscillation. Trakenthin shakes his head, wipes the excessive water off his helm, and searches into the obscured clearing. He growls loudly, and fights a mix of frustration and worry as he continues staring out.

Two of the signal bars now pulsate to the top of the range with an alert beep, and Trakenthin glances down briefly. He lifts his helmeted head, and focuses all his attention to the horizon through forest and haze. After a few fruitless passes, two familiar voices sound out. Chad kneels slightly, braces against a tree, and holds his arm out back towards Tassilda. With a staggered glide across the loose, slick dirt, Tassilda catches herself upon Chad’s outstretched arm and backpack. She grumbles out her aggravation, releases a long stressed breath, and summons up a tired, appreciative tone. “Thank you. Sorry.”

Chad shakes his head with grimace, holds his shield up against the waves of rain, and turns to check on Tassilda. “It’s fine. This situation is fucked anyway.”

Taking the moment under the shelter of the shield, Tassilda pulls her soaked raven black hair back out her light blue on black eyes, and nods begrudgingly. She lifts up her aetherphone into view, checks a similar signal area, and flit her eyes wide. “Oh gods, I think we’re close to everyone else. Their signals just jumped up.”

Gazing out into the distance, Chad spots a tall, imposing, and familiar figure against the waves of rain. He cracks a hopeful grin, points Trakenthin out to Tassilda, and leads the way. Trakenthin stands tall his armor, and greets Chad and Tassilda with a reserved smile. “Good to see you.”

Patting Trakenthin on his shoulder, Chad laughs through his exhaustion. “Same. Any sign of Deedri, Modoran, Veevi, or the crew?”

Trakenthin shakes his head and twists his face. “Nothing of from Veevi. No sign of crew. Deedri. Modoran. Must be near.”

Directing attention to the distance outlines of ancient stone buildings contrasting the mist and rain, he contemplates out loud. “Believe they are in these structures. Sharp increase in signal going over the hill.”

Tassilda nods in agreement, looks around the area, and motions towards a nearby mid sized building. “Same thing happened on my phone. Let’s check this one and get out of this rain.”

The trio navigate down the slight slope through perimeter brush, rush around to the front of the building facing into the clearing, and stand outside a busted doorway. With a bit of hesitation, they carefully enter the structure. Inside, Chad, Trakenthin, and Tassilda cautiously fan out, and explore the entry with multiple side rooms. Each pauses to investigate strange stacking of supply crates, upturned furniture, and broken debris. Discomfort grows as they find traces of conflict by impact holes, magical burn marks, and dark splatter stains upon the walls and floors. The group reconvenes in a large barracks in the back of the structure, and slowly rearrange cots. Chad pulls his helm off, shakes his head, and sighs uneasily. “Okay. I can’t be the only one that would have rather just found this place full of dirt, cobwebs, and bugs.”

Tassilda shudders as she slings off her backpack onto the ground, and releases her water logged cloak onto the floor. “GODS, NO. What IS this place, and... What THE HELL happened here?!”

Trakenthin grumbles with snort, rolls his shoulders, and studies the vicinity concerned. “Something BAD. Must tolerate it for now.”

Chad releases the straps of his breast plate, pulls off the damp under armor from his skin, and nods reluctantly. “Yeah. This is the first bit of shelter we’ve found. So, we’ll have to ignore the... history... for now.”

Tassilda lifts an unamused brow towards Chad, and rolls her eyes at the situation. “History. That’s a nice way to put it.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Chad pries out his aetherphone from his pants pocket, shakes off the water, and presses a button to wake the device. “Let’s see if the radios want to work now. I think that THING was jamming them or something before. Check on Deedri and Modoran, and see where they are.”

Chad presses and holds a button on a two-way radio app, and speaks clearly. “Deedri. Modoran. Deedri. Modoran. We detect your phone beacons. Where are you? Are you okay?”

The tense silence looms over the seconds as Chad, Trakenthin, and Tassilda wait. Chad’s phone speaker chirps a few key ups on the channel, along with the sound of fumbling hands and background murmurs. Deedri’s voice sounds out. “Chad?! Thank the gods. Modoran and I are fine. We’re near this really big clearing taking shelter in this... um, strange... small stone building. You heard from anyone else?”

A wave of relief washes over Tassilda, Trakenthin, and Chad. With a happy smile on his face, Chad presses the transmit button. “Yes. I’m with Trakenthin and Tassilda. We’re okay. Just really soaked. We took shelter in another building around a big clearing, too. Haven’t heard from Veevi or any of the crew. So... I don’t know. The drone didn’t chase us after a certain point, so it might have flown off and left everyone else alone.”

After a radio key up, Deedri ponders out loud, uncertainly. “So, what’s the plan? We’re a bit lost as to what to do next.”

Chad glances between Trakenthin and Tassilda’s indecisive expressions, thinks a moment, and directs his voice out to the group local and remote. “Well. We shelter until the storm moves on. Keep our transponders running, and take turns monitoring the radio and do a call out once an hour. And... Rest up the best we can. Sound good?”

Trakenthin and Tassilda nod, and moments later Deedri’s voice speaks after the radio key up. “Yes. Kind of how we felt.”

From the background of the far side of the radio broadcast, Modoran comments. “Good enough for me.”

Keeping the transmission going, Deedri sounds out from Chad’s aetherphone with an uneasy tone. “Not to make things creepier, but... Does this place seem weird to you?”

Chad eyes around the large barracks, narrows a stare to the front entrance, and nods slowly as he keys up his phone. “Yeah... Let’s not plan on staying here longer than we have to.”

Underneath a rocky overhang, Samantha, Gerald, and a dozen recording crew members hide as water splashes from over head. Gusts of wind blast rain upon the huddled masses. Samantha whispers loudly over the storm to Gerald with a grimace. “Everyone is accounted for, right?”

Gerald nods his head of wet hair, sighs, and stares out into the misty forest. “Yeah. A bit roughed up running through this forest, but okay.”

Contorting his face uneasily, Gerald groans, shakes his head, and glances around. “But, we got to find some kind of shelter. That fucking spirit drone thing is due to make another pass in this area, and I don’t think we have that many passes left before it narrows down where we are.”

Samantha grits her teeth, snorts out frustration along with spatters of water dripping down her face, and furrows her brow. “Gods dammit. Why the hell is it hunting us down?! Oh, never mind...”

She directs her voice over towards Urdi and steps closer. “Any luck on figuring out where those beacons are coming from?”

Urdi flicks her furry ears in thought, wrestles the indecision on her face, and points in a rough direction. “I think we need to go that way. The further that direction we've gone, two of the signals got stronger. Three other signals have settled to the same levels. So, they may have regrouped.”

A hint of worry rises in Gerald’s tone, and he glances over to Urdi. “Anything from Veevi’s aetherphone?”

Shaking her head, Urdi frowns. Radnae quips has he checks a readout from some equipment. “Then again, she probably couldn’t figure out how to turn the beacon on. And yes, there’s still too much interference to broadcast a clear radio signal out.”

Watching a sharp increase in activity on the monitor screen, Radnae waves frantically at everyone and loudly whispers. “It’s NEARBY. Everyone back HIDE.”

Gerald, Samantha, Urdi, Radnae, and crew duck and tuck close together under the overhang. Under the obscuring waterfall of drainage, they wait in nervous anticipation. In the distant haze, the powerful, sharp whir of rotors and crackles of electrical arcs rise above the sounds of the pummeling rainfall. The large drone soars through the trees in a wild display of awkward navigation, and charts an erratic search path. Occasionally, a powerful electrical arc pops into a nearby branch when it flies to close. A few minutes pass before its hunt leads it away, and it disappears back into the mists of the forest.

The assembled crew wait tensely. Gerald breaks the relative silence, points in the direction suggested by Urdi, and motions the rest of the group. “Well, we're not sticking around here.”

Curling up on the mattress under a pile of scavenged towels, blankets, and sheets, Veevi snores softly. The storm rages outside the open windows of the large, ruined bedroom, and the wind blows through the room across Veevi’s outfit draped over a chair. Tossing on the mattress, Veevi unconsciously stretches out in the nature themed clothes, and mumbles to herself in her sleep. Her fuzzy ears twitch to the sounds voices in the hallway outside the bedroom entry. A loud noise of something hitting the stone floor echoes through the corridors, and Veevi startles awake.

Hearing the voices getting closer, Veevi’s eyes widen in bewildered panic, and she scrambles around. After fumbling around, she finds her laser pistol, scurries behind a pile of debris, and shakily trains the weapon at the broken entry doors. Her fear drives her frightened panting. She shudders nervously and the pistol trembles in her hand. The muffled voices grow louder. The rainfall surges outside in drowning, disorientating cacophony. Veevi’s grip tightens on the pistol.

In the midst of a chorus footsteps outside the bedroom door, a voice speaks up. “Okay, let’s what we got in here-”

A bright green flash floods the bedroom and hallway. A laser beam pulses into existence out the doorway and scorches the wall across. Immediate silence seizes area. A surge of bravado drives Veevi up to her feet, and she angrily screams through panic. “THERE’S MORE OF THAT IF ANY OF YOU MOTHERFUCKERS COME IN HERE! I’LL BURN YOU ALL TO A GODS DAMNED CRISP!”

Over the frightened muttering of a man's voice, Samantha yells back into the room in an absolute, seething rage. “VEEVI! IF YOU DON’T PUT THAT FUCKING PISTOL AWAY, I’LL SHOVE IT SIDEWAYS UP YOUR PINK FURRY ASS, AND KICK THE SHIT OUT OF YOU UNTIL IT FIRES! YOU DUMB BITCH!”

Veevi’s pink pupil eyes spring wide open as she immediately recognizes the voice. She quickly lowers the pistol to her side, shrinks her posture back down into hiding, and meekly replies with drooping ears. “O-okay... Well... Sorry?”

Beams of early morning sun angle down into the large clearing in the middle of an ancient tree perimeter. A series of watery footsteps sound out into the area, and two sets of footprints form a fading trail across the soggy soil. The depressions into the grasses appear, and water oozes to fill them quickly afterwards. Leading into the mid sized structure, two pairs of boot prints stamp watermarks onto the stone floor of the entry. Modoran and Deedri gradually shift to full opacity on top of the watery outlines. Deedri blinks with an intrigued smirk and whispers to Modoran. “I REALLY need to learn how to do those spells.”

Modoran grins nonchalantly and shrugs his shoulders. “Yeah, they have their uses.”

The two slowly step in, and cautiously inspect the entryway. The growing morning highlights the signs of past, messy strife. Modoran spots Chad down the hallway, and leads the way through the leftover chaotic clues. Deedri shudders upon recognizing the old bloodstains, and rushes through that corridor section. Chad waves the two in, and sighs with relieved smile. “Good morning. I hope you two got some rest. We tried our best here.”

Modoran twists his mouth into a grimace, and shrugs uncertainly. “We dried out and took turns getting a few hours of sleep each. Not the best sleep I’ve ever had.”

Sneering her upper lip, and uneasily squirming out her disgust. “Didn’t help that we stayed in some makeshift jail cell.”

Chad flits his brown eyes wide, frowns slightly, and glances around the room. “Gods... Yeah, this place has some... history... I don’t want know about right now.”

Tassilda finishes brushing out her long raven black hair, pulls it back over her spiraling horns, and dons a relieved smile. “Yes, but it seems like everyone is safe enough.”

Deedri’s furry ears perk up, and she gazes between the group. “Really? The crew and... Veevi?”

With a wry chuckle, Tassilda stands up from her seat on a cot, stretches out her arms, and rolls her eyes. “Yes. The crew followed our aetherphone beacons, and they found Veevi for us. She hid in some bedroom in the big building at the other end of the clearing. Nearly blasted Gerald’s head off when the crew tried to explore the room.”

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Chad slowly shakes his head and grumbles. “Need to take that pistol away from her.”

Trakenthin groans in agreement and nods his head sternly at Chad. Modoran pivots in place, studies the layout and contents of the room, and queries the assembled team. “Any theories about what this place is?”

Chad rests his hands at his side, puzzles at the environment, and ponders out loud. “Maybe some kind of base? This place looks old. But, all the furniture looks like it was kept up until recently. So...”

Leaning over to a corner of covered supplies, Trakenthin lifts up a cloth wrapped bundle, steps up to Modoran, and presents it. “You may know about this. Found it while clearing out space for camp.”

Modoran takes hold of the loose package, unwraps it, and tilts his head back in surprise. Carefully gripping the finely crafted wooden bow, he meticulously examines the inscriptions and magical channels carved into the structure. He cocks his head of short, grayish white hair to the side as astonishment and worry blend together on his dusky bluish gray face. Searching his mind for conclusions, he exchanges glances with the curious team, and inquires. “Did you find any quivers or arrows?”

Trakenthin nods, points to the corner of supplies, and directs Modoran’s attention to a quiver of three well crafted arrows with magical markings. With a blank expression Modoran mumbles out a phrase in Evuukian, and draws an awkward breath in. Chad narrows his gaze at Modoran, tilts his head intrigued. “Anything we should know?”

Modoran shrugs his shoulders, resumes his nonchalant exterior, and sighs. “It a wonderful magic imbued bow, and nicely enchanted arrows. I’m a bit worried about who made them. But, I get the feeling they’re not here anymore. So, I’ll hold on to them, if no one objects.”

Chad searches the rest of the group for opposition, then nods in agreement. “Go ahead. You’re probably best one to use it from what I’ve seen.”

Staring outside and focusing her furry ears to faint sounds of Veevi’s voice, Deedri directs a question to the team. “So, what’s the plan?”

Noticing the attention upon him, Chad draws in a breath, searches his mind a moment, and plots. “We’ll regroup with the crew... and Veevi. First order of business is to figure out where that drone is. That way we can try to be where it isn’t. After that, we double time back to camp, load up, and get the hell out of here. I think we have enough evidence to show that the drone is not exactly... Um, recoverable? Currently in use? Shit. I don’t know. But, I hope that’s enough of explanation.”

Tassilda rolls her light blue on black eyes, and smirks sarcastically. “From what I’ve heard about the Grand Library, they’ll probably send a team to try to study that thing after we’re gone.”

Nodding at Chad, Modoran slips the quiver onto his back, holds the bow at the ready, and motions towards the exit. “Let’s see what the crew and Veevi are doing, then. So, we can get out of here.”

The group assembles, and walks to the entryway. Upon stepping out, they notice Veevi in front of the largest ancient structure, standing boldly in front of the entrance, and soaking in the attention of cameras in her revealing adaptation of her new clothes. The team halts their progress, and reluctantly watch. Modoran squints his eyes, grits his teeth into grimace, and cringes. “Ooo... That’s a lot they’re going to have to fix in post.”

Tassilda sneers her upper lip, places her hands on her hips, and snorts derisively. “Oh please, she’s shown far more in far less before.”

Shaking his head, Modoran draws an uneasy breath through his teeth. “Yeah, but those are Terra Priest symbols on all that.”

Before the team processes that new information, an unfortunately familiar whir of rotor blades creeps out from the background noise of the surrounding forest. The sound surges louder and louder, until the drone slowly navigates through an open section of cleared branches between two ancient trees and passes the perimeter into the unoccupied part of the large clearing. It hovers menacingly over the small jail structure, and starts a slow scan of the area. The team ducks back into the their building, and hides out of sight. Chad whispers to the group and grits his teeth as he thinks out loud. “Okay. We know where it is. But, we have to deal with it. I’m thinking if we can disable it. At least so it can’t fly well enough to follow us. Umm...”

He eyes the bow in Modoran’s hand, and smirks. “Modoran, you think can do some damage with that?”

Modoran pulls an arrow out of the quiver, checks it over, and nods tentatively. “Oh yeah. I’m not familiar with these arrows, but I know I can put it through the hole in it’s side if stays still.”

Lifting a finger as an idea springs forth in her mind, Deedri points over to Tassilda. “I got something, I think. Spirits can be influenced by mind affecting magic. That’s how they are often controlled. At least, what I've read... So... Maybe...”

Tassilda cracks an eager grin on her gray face, lifts an eyebrow, and flexes her hand of long, black nailed fingers. “A charged up sleep wave?”

Deedri’s auburn eyes light up and smiles. “Yes! And, I can boost up a hold spell to try to immobilize it.”

Chad nods at the forming plan, glances over to Trakenthin, and smirks. “And if it goes down, Trakenthin and I will close in to chop its wings.”

Trakenthin nods affirmatively, dons a stoic gaze, and readies his sword. Chad sorts through the process and outlines the plan. “Okay. Deedri immobilizes it, and Tassilda sleeps it. Modoran sends an arrow or two inside it. If it goes down, Trakenthin and I try to keep it from flying again.”

The assembled team relays their agreement. Chad twists his face, ponders a moment, and grumbles. “We need a distraction-”

A loud, bold yell echoes out into the field, and a series laser blasts cast bright green light into the entry. A single dull, metallic ping rings out, and rotor hums flares up. Veevi screams out over the sound of the laser pistol firing. “You’re not so tough! A few good shots will take you down!”

Chad blinks blankly, and releases a sigh along with the dismay of the team. Trakenthin quips while rolling his hazel eyes. “Asked. Received.”

Outside in the clearing, in front of a line of gradually retreating crew members, Veevi takes shaky aim at the drone hovering distantly and pulls the trigger repeatedly. A few bright green beams flash past the looming machine, and it slowly pivots in place as it’s rotors adjust. With a few arcs across its fuselage, the huge, airborne anima infused aircraft shifts its propulsion and coasts towards Veevi with sparks drifting off of it. In a growing panic Veevi jerks more wild shots off her weapon, and sends random shots off roughly in the drone’s direction. It gains velocity with intent obvious.

With a loud roar of rotors spinning up to speed and blades grinding through air, the aircraft pitches its nose sharply down, and fans out arcs of electricity. The crew instinctively scatter out, and panic back into the huge ancient structure. Veevi shakily keeps her laser pistol pointed towards drone, glances back to the frightened people running, and stares in absolute terror at the visibly aggravated machine. She freezes in horror, shakes in her boots, and shrinks in hopeless awe.

Shimmers of energy jet up from the ground, quickly envelope the drone, and stiffen into a thick translucent cloud. Sputtering out a quick few fvalian curses just outside the stone barracks structure, Deedri digs her finger claws into the soggy dirt saturated with magical flow. She glances over with a wince to Tassilda and growls out. “NOW! I don’t know how long- I can- stretch this out-! Never meant for THIS!”

With a flash of light blue glow in her eyes, Tassilda cracks a confident smirk, presses the swirling magical flow between her hands, and aims the palms of her hands to the struggling drone. With a flex her of upper body and arms, the energies surge to a focal point, and erupt out in a narrow cone at the anima controlled craft. The nearly transparent flow engulfs the drone and washes through the entirety of the chassis. Moments later the rotors spin down to an idle maintenance speed, servos lethargically level out, and the craft hovers still in the air. A fast sigh of relief leaves Deedri’s lungs, and she recovers her composure while panting. “Oh gods... It’s not fighting back now. I think I can keep it steady.”

Modoran nods with concern to Deedri, steps up front with the bow in hand, and nocks an arrow, glaring determinedly at the drone. Pulling back the bowstring, he draws in a calm breath, and lines up his shot to the hole in the fuselage. Flows of magical energy swirl around his arms and sink into the bow and arrow. The markings on the bow glow brightly, and a misty illumination vents off the head of the arrow. When the drone drifts just enough to expose itself fully and the bow and arrow light up to their brightest, Modoran releases the arrow. The bowstring snaps forward immediately, and the arrow disappears into a blue-white streak across the clearing. The trail zips inside the chassis of machine as fiery ball of energy.

A fast succession of loud metal slams pound inside the body of the drone, with each impact loosing volume and leaving a smaller dent on the outer hull. The final crash sizzles to a loud expulsion of smoke, and the aircraft flops down on a shallow puddle. As Chad and Trakenthin charge out, Modoran draws another arrow from a quiver, examines in closely, and quips in a bit surprise. “Huh, so that’s what that enchantment did.”

Chad takes the lead with his shield forward and Trakenthin right behind, as the mechanic beast roars out a confused, pained cacophony of synthetic chaos. Narrowing an examining stare at the struggling drone, Chad yells out to Trakenthin. “Try to break the blades on the rotors! Even a little damage will make them useless. Then, jam the mounts!”

Trakenthin nods, splits off from Chad, and the two rush to opposing sides of the drone. Carefully stepping forward, Chad grits his teeth as small arcs of electricity spark out from the drone, and he gets near a spasming fan. With his shield up, he holds his sword downwards above the chaotically spinning blades, winces his head back, and spikes his weapon in. With a loud shatter, fragments ping off his shield, and Chad struggles to maintain his grip on the sword as the rotor grinds to a harsh halt. Trakenthin narrows his focus, waits for the arcs to wane, and crashes his large sword into the metal chassis surrounding rotor unit. The drone jerks at the sudden of stop from blades carving the intake manifold. Another furious blast of of electricity follows shrill, electronic cries of rage. Both Chad and Trakenthin retreat back quickly, as the aircraft fights against damage and physics to rise again.

Modoran readies another arrow, starts flowing his energies into it, and glances between Tassilda and Deedri. “Can you two give me another opening?!”

Deedri grits her sharp teeth, strains her body, and stares at the drone with glowing auburn eyes. As translucent forces locks the machine onto the ground, Tassilda steps up, aims her hands, summons up another burst of energy at the grounded aircraft. Modoran takes in a deep breath, takes aim, and yells out. “STAND BACK! I DON’T KNOW WHAT THIS WILL DO!”

The arrow zips across the clearing, through the hole in the fuselage, and plants itself inside. Everyone watches expectantly for seconds, while Deedri strains to keep the drone locked down. A high pitched whine rings out from inside the machine, and a powerful concussive burst explodes out. Silence overtakes the area. The drone remains still. The electrical arcs wane to nothing. And, the last signs of life fade from the rotors and servos.

Chad and Trakenthin regroup with the rest of the team. After a minute, Chad looks over the team, presents a proud, bright white grin, and chuckles. “I think it’s done. But... we’ll keep back and...”

Chad’s voice trails off with the bewilderment of the team, and they watch Veevi strut triumphantly up next to the drone. With the camera crew recording from a distance, Veevi dons a prideful grin, assumes a revealing pose, and poses with her laser pistol. Tassilda glares spitefully as her knuckles cracks from clenching her fist. “That little fucking pink bitch...”

A faint glow pulsates inside the hole in the drone, and a small entity of brightly shining, translucent, angular shapes, and jagged energy trails leaps out. The being merges into the laser pistol. The weapon electrocutes itself out of the Veevi’s hand, and lands on the ground. Veevi stumbles onto the soggy soil, dramatically clutches her hand, and whines out in pain. The camera crew shift their attention over to the gun. With a few faint sparks, the pistol rights itself on the ground, pivots its aim, and fires wildly. While the crew ducks and scrambles away, Chad hoists up his shield and growls out loudly. “Enough of this shit!”

Trakenthin stands defensively in front of Deedri and Modoran. As Chad approaches the laser pistol, Tassilda rushes up behind him and pats his back. “Get me close. I’ll see if what a dispelling blast does to it.”

With pulses of bright green beaming out across the clearing, Chad and Tassilda approach slowly and carefully. In a final push, Chad moves up to the chaotically firing weapon. Tassilda swings her arm out from behind Chad, and flings out an orb of magical energy. The ball of disruptive flow moves through the flailing pistol, and the anima flees the weapon in a high-pitch electronic shriek. With a chitter of synthetic panic, it darts around the clearing, and flies off into the forest.

Chad steps up cautiously to the motionless weapon, picks it up, ejects the power cell, engages the safety, and holds the discharge button. Shaking his head, he grumbles out his blend of frustration and relief. “I’ll be holding onto this.”