Episode 95

Cupping her hands around her dark gray face, Cind pulls in a strained breath and closes her bright blue eyes hard. “Oh. My. Gods. Marcus, what THE FUCK were you thinking?!”

She exhales through her fingers, slowly slides her hands down the side of her purple berry stained shirt, and tensely balls of her fists. “The plan was to check, see, and leave! YOU said it!”

Uneasily shifting weight between his feet upon the grassy shoulder next to the road, Marcus rubs the back of his neck, and starts to open his mouth. He halts as another chain of shrill growls sound out from the old van behind him. Grimacing briefly, he nervously chuckles. “Well, it just happened so fast. He literally ran right towards me. I just... took the opportunity.”

Kell narrows his purple on black eyes, tilts his head of unkempt black hair, and frowns sharply. “What opportunity, man? What was your game plan? What the end goal? This doesn’t make sense.”

Crossing her arms, Cind straightens her posture, glares harshly at Marcus, and calls out. “Wait, was THIS your plan the whole time?! WAS IT, MARCUS!?”

Marcus blinks quietly, averts his gaze uneasily, and awkwardly smiles with blatant guilt leaking out. Cind’s bright blue eyes widen, and she grits her teeth with a growl. “What are you thinking?! Oh gods, we’re suppose to heading back to High Alton now. We didn’t need this!”

Summoning a scrap of courage from within, Marcus crosses his arms, puffs up his chest, and sternly stares. “Yes, we had to! We’ve got NOTHING to show for everything we did this summer! The most significant thing we did was free a bunch of fancy whelps at that one show. And... Nothing else! All of our donations went to feeding us and fueling up the van. What were we going to bring to the People for Dragons Rights?”

Leaning forward to glower right at Marcus, Cind jabs a pointing finger, and directs her infuriated tone at him. “I don’t know! Certainly not a little dragon we stole from a little girl who has been taking great care of him!”

Gritting her teeth, she winces through a surge of rage, and yells at Marcus. “It’s ALWAYS your ambitious bullshit that ruins good things! Everything was going just fine until you just HAD to push it TOO FAR!”

Marcus narrows a glare at Cind, frowns defensively, and growls out. “Well, if it wasn’t for my ambition, you’d be sitting around High Alton trying to sell lame t-shirts no one wants and waiting tables at that one dive bar.”

As the pressure swells between Marcus and Cind, Kell closes his eyes, grumbles under his breath, and steps forward between them. Grabbing both by a shoulder, Kell exhales calmly, and sternly addresses the two. “STOP. This is NOT fixing a damn thing. We are NOT taking the little dragon.”

Marcus shifts to protest, and freezes as a chilling glare from Kell’s purple on black eyes focuses upon him. Kell searches his mind, twists his mouth, and sighs resolutely. “We are getting the dragon back to the girl.”

Cind fidgets out her worry, and visibly ponders while she twirls a braid of red hair. “How do we do that? It’s going to be weird to try to drop off a dragon in the van. I don’t think it’s going to go well to say we found a random dragon and find the exact house on the first try.”

Nodding his head understandingly, Kell sorts through the possibilities in his mind. “Let’s get him out of the van... before he destroys it... Then, we can carry him back to the house. The little girl is probably looking for him. We run into her, we act like we found him on hike to pick berries and protellows.”

Cind glances down at her stained shirt, smirks with hints of relief, and mulls over the plan. Marcus thinks through the idea, rocks his head side to side, and sighs. “And, if we don’t find the girl?”

Kell shrugs his shoulders, and smiles comfortingly. “Then, we get close to the house, aim the dragon in the right direction, and let him run back home. He seems smart enough to know what home looks like. We wait until someone comes out, or he goes inside.”

Cind nods with an exhale and rolls the tension out of her shoulders. “That’s sounds good to me.”

As Cind narrows an accusatory stare Marcus, he grits his teeth, swallows his pride, and grimaces uncomfortably. “I agree. That should work.”

Confirming with the other two, Kell rolls his eyes, releases his grip on Cind's and Marcus’s shoulders, and sighs. “Good, good. Then, we get in the van with our berries and protellow pickings, and get the fuck back to High Alton. We chalk this up to being really... REALLY... fucking stupid. Okay?”

Cind concentrates her glower at Marcus and waits for him to nod his head in shame. Marcus stretches his neck and shoulders, pivots around to face the old van’s side door, and grimaces uneasily. “Yeah. Okay. Guess I’ll get him out. I put him there, so I should get him out. And, he’s already mad at me anyway.”

Marcus steps slowly up towards the vehicle. He waits a few moments, carefully leans his ear up to the metal body, and blinks bewildered. “Huh... Must have calmed down or tired himself out.”

Gripping the side door handle, he unlatches the lock, and gradually slides panel open as he glances over to Cind. “Alright. He might be a bit more agreeable. But, maybe have some berries ready to keep him calm.”

The sliding door fully open, Marcus surveys the clawed, ripped, and torn interior, and blinks blankly in surprise. Kell and Cind peer around Marcus, and gawk in shock at the extent of the chaotic redecorating. The trio gaze inside the cab of the old van, and notice the small dragon missing from view. Marcus leans his head into the interior, visually scans the cab, and puzzles out loud. “Where the hell is he?”

Just as Marcus settles his attention forward, a pair of aqua eyes peer from the shade beneath a shredded sleeping bag among the chaotic debris. The furious intent and righteous anger glares through Marcus’s very existence. Terror grips Marcus and he barely mutters out. “Oh shit...”

Flinging out his amber scaled wings wide open, Varan bellows out a shrill, deafening battle cry, springs his back legs against the van wall, and lunges out with maw and front claws at Marcus. Varan clamps his front claws into Marcus’s shoulders, snap his mouth onto a clump of Marcus’s slicked back hair, and growls in sheer indignant rage. The impact overwhelms Marcus’s balance, and he topples over flat on his back upon the road shoulder grass. He barely manages to hold back Varan’s snapping maw. The little dragon clamps down his back claws onto Marcus’s stomach fat, beats his wings on either side of Marcus’s face, and whips his tail down upon Marcus’s groin. Cind and Kell gawk aghast in absolute awe at the terrifying display of fury. With screams of anguish from Marcus, both Cind and Kell attempt to approach the brawl, and fail to find way to apprehend the dragon attacker. Pausing his assault, Varan snorts his disgust, glances around, and notices Cind and Kell closing in. Narrowing glares between the two of them, Varan growls, leaps back with a powerful flap of his wings, and scrambles up to the roof of the van. He searches the area, grumbles his confusion, and watches Cind and Kell check on Marcus. With a final hiss, he picks a direction away from the trio, powers down his wings, and leaps off the van into the air. He swiftly clears to the other side of road, gains altitude above the tree tops briefly, and coasts down out of sight.

Slowly standing up with the help of Cind and Kell, Marcus covers his groin with a hand, coughs in between deep breaths, and inspects his ripped shirt and scratched up body. “Ungh... He was totally... waiting for us to... open the door. Oh gods... My balls.”

As the three quickly regain their collective composure, each becomes aware of Varan’s escape. Cind and Kell rush out to chase down the dragon, while Marcus awkwardly stumbles to catch up.

An evuukian woman with long silvery hair wraps her arms around Fawna, and strokes her silvery red-tinted locks comfortingly. She gently hugs Fawna, holds her tight while the two sit on the couch, and calmly speaks with a reassuring tone. “It’s going to be okay, my little girl. We’ll find your Varan. He could not have gotten too far.”

Fawna sniffs up her tears, hides her face in her mother’s embrace, and mumbles through sobs. “I- I... looked everywhere... He was right in front of me, momma... I don’t know where he could have... I checked everywhere... Called for him...”

Curling close, she lets go of a large, worn flashlight, weakly clings to her mother, and cries. Her mother gazes her blue eyes down at her daughter tear soaked blue eyes, and smiles while picking leaves off the girl’s hair and twigs stuck in her overalls. “You did what you could by yourself. We’re going to get some help, and do everything we can. Your little dragon will be found safe, and be home soon.”

Nodding against her mother, Fawna staggers out a few sobs, eases out a sad sigh, and wearily stares out the front window into the moonlit evening. Mr. Frenzacia paces in the front entry with aetherphone in hand, twists his dark gray face, and gazes his concern over to Fawna. “So, that’s what we know so far. I apologize to call you so late, but we could really use some help.”

His red on black eyes rest upon Fawna as her mother clears the hair out of her face and over her curled horns. His attention shifts to the voices on the other side of the phone call, and he nods as his mind processes the information.

On the other side of call, Shadeesa and Kaleb gather close to an aetherphone on the coffee table. Shadeesa gradually leans as close her pregnant belly with allow and sighs as her light gray, white freckled face contorts. “Okay... Dragons have great hearing. So, one thing we can try is to drive around nearby roads and call out for him. He’ll probably go to any voice he recognizes. Even if he doesn’t show up immediately, it might guide him in the right direction if he’s lost. If we can lead him out of the woods, that will help our chance in finding him.”

Mr Frenzacia's voice sounds out from the speakerphone. “That sounds like a good plan. We at least know he isn’t near the house right now. Fawna checked that.”

In background of the phone call, a little girl’s sobs echo faintly. Kaleb glances out the back screen door, and catches the glints of moonlight off of the back yard’s grass. He stands up from the couch, leans down to kiss Shadeesa on the cheek, and grins boldly. “There’s enough light tonight. Lagi and I will fly out and search from above.”

Shadeesa smiles lovingly at Kaleb, nods, and directs her voice at the aetherphone. “I don’t know if you heard, but Kaleb and Lagi will be looking from above.”

A spark of hope lightens Mr. Frenzacia voice, and he speaks louder into the room on the other side of call. “Thank you. I’ll let Fawna know. Fawna. Mr. Kaleb and Lagi are going to help look for him from the sky. Don’t worry.”

Fawna’s tone brightens and she calls out. “Thank you!”

Kaleb rushes back in from the hallway, quickly donning his riding suit and securing bits of equipment. He pauses briefly in his awkward approach to the back door, and glances over his shoulder to Shadeesa. “We’ll be up in the air in a few minutes.”

Shadeesa gazes at Kaleb, and blinks her green on black eyes. “I’ll call you. I’m going to go over there and keep watch there.”

She pauses a moment, picks up the aetherphone off the coffee table, and grimaces with a bit of embarrassment. “If that’s fine with you, Mr. Frenzacia. I believe Varan is familiar enough with me to go to me if he sees me. But, I don’t think he’d recognize my voice like you, your wife’s, or Fawna’s.”

Mr. Frenzacia chuckles lightly on call. “Perfectly fine. Makes good sense to me. That’ll free us up to take the car out, too, and cover more ground. Thank you so much, Vet Serania. We owe you.”

Shadeesa eases herself up from the couch, straightens her back, and smirks with determination. “Let’s find Varan first.”

The back screen shuts after a long hiss of the pneumatic door closer, and Kaleb quickly walks along the long brick house and yells out to the hangar. “Lagi! Wake up!”

Lagi rolls his blue and black scaled body slightly, cracks open a green eye at Kaleb, and grumbles out in a series of grunts, hisses, and groans. Kaleb sighs, nods his head understandingly, and marches over. “I know! I know! But, this is an emergency. We got to get up in the air now.”

A curious chirp resonates from Lagi, and he lifts his head blinking. Kaleb crosses the threshold of the hangar entry, stands next to a large, wheeled saddle stand, and pulls it behind him. “Varan’s gone missing. We think he’s lost in the woods, and they need our-”

Lagi’s bright green eyes spring open. He springs up from his bedding, swiftly guides his huge form in front of Kaleb, and lays low waiting. Kaleb grins proudly, grips hold of part of the riding gear, and flings it over the anticipating dragon. “Thank you. You’re a good dragon.”

With a simple nod and confirming snort, Lagi’s front clawed hands assists securing the straps and latches in well rehearsed unison with Kaleb.

Underneath the shadowy forest canopy, Varan wanders around through underbrush. Weaving through the darkness of midnight, he pauses within the patches of moonlight beaming through gaps in the leaf cover above. Unfurling his amber scaled wings, he focuses his aqua eyes upwards, glances over to a tree, and darts up the trunk. Flapping his wings furiously, he leaps off into the air and strains to gain altitude. After seconds of struggle, he slowly descends despite his best efforts, and flops on to the ground. With each pant, his face twists out frustration and desperation. After catching his breath, he folds up his wings, stands up shakily, and stares out into the surrounding darkness.

The sounds of the night flood into the vicinity. Leaves rustle with the occasional gusts, chirps of insects echo around, and a chorus of faint activity surrounds the little dragon. Backing into a tree, Varan darts his eyes around the area and cowers against the looming fear pushing in. Freezing a moment, he lifts his head up and widens his aqua eyes. Searching in one direction, he summons up his courage, and rushes off through the brush and forest. During the journey, he pauses, listens carefully, and refines his direction. Minutes pass and the little dragon wanders forward. Varan halts, scans the area carefully, and waits. As the seconds pass, his puzzling turns into despair. His attentions drifts to his surroundings, and he cowers down against the darkness and ambient noises of the forest.

The pressuring night pushes Varan down onto the ground, and a faint whimper accompanies every breath. A cool breeze blows through the forest, and the drone of leaves against the wind fill the air around Varan. In the silent lull, Varan’s eyes flit wide and he lifts his head up. Carefully he aims his stare in a direction, and waits. Rocking his head side to side, he grumbles uncertainly to himself and snorts. The wind blows around him, and he sniffs the air. He curiously samples the scent more and more, and stands back up. Licking his lips, he cautiously sets out, darting between patches of brush and rushing through patches of moonlight from above.

Voices muffle through the surrounding layers of trees and undergrowth, and Varan wanders closer to the source, smelling the air along the way. As he gets close, he sniffs the air and hears the voices with clarity. He halts, slinks low behind a bush, and peeks out cautiously. Standing in a patch of light from the almost full moon above, Marcus, Cind, and Kell slowly scan the perimeter. Marcus grimaces, slowly straightens out his sore body, and sighs. “How much ground could he have covered?!”

Kell slowly shakes his head and frowns. “I don’t know, man. Little guy was able to glide and keep level flight for a bit. So... Who knows?”

Cind grits her teeth briefly, tightens her grasp around a purple spot stained canvas bag, and groans. “Oh gods, he must be so scared out here all alone. We have to find him.”

Crossing his arms against a bit of pain, Marcus twists his mouth, and snorts. “We could be out all night looking for him.”

Narrowing a mean stare at Marcus, Cind snarls her upper lip and grumbles. “If that’s what it takes, we ARE doing it.”

Marcus cowers back, swallows his pride, and nods in agreement. When Cind pivots back around sharply, a number of berries fall out of a hole in the bag onto the forest floor. Varan’s aqua eyes widen and trace the fruit bouncing upon the ground. Shifting his gaze between Cind and berries, he readies in wait as a faint growl sounds out from his stomach. During the discussions between Marcus and Kell, Cind turns around and steps towards the other two. While the trio peer out in an opposite direction, Varan slinks out from cover, glides along the ground, and creeps up to the fallen berries. Quickly snatching up the berries into his maw, he greedily munches each of them down. He drifts off in delight.

Cind nods at a comment, pivots around, and glances down to her surprise. Hearing the reflexive gasp, Varan glances up to meet Cind’s bright blue eyes. Tensing his body, he readies himself for escape. He continues to stare up to Cind, and focuses upon the blue eyes and half moonlight shaded face. In a surge of familiarity, Varan cowers down and cries weakly with each breath. Cind immediately drops down to her knees, and comforts the trembling little dragon. “Oh gods! There you are. Don’t worry, we’ll get you back home.”

Marcus glances over wearily as Cind works her arms around the shivering Varan, and exhales his relief. “Good. Finally. Let’s get him close to his home, and get out of here.”

Kell smiles, and glances over to Cind. “How’s the little guy doing?”

Cind scoops up Varan into her arms, rocks him comfortingly, and grimaces. “Scared out of his mind, but he looks okay. He just wants his mommy really bad. Don’t you...”

Varan pants out pitiful whimpers and whines. Kell searches around the area, points in a direction, and motions to the rest of the group. “Cool. Okay. Let’s start walking back.”

The trio set off into forest. Minutes later, Varan halts his crying, perks his head up, and darts his gaze around. Cind stops, and puzzles at Varan. “What’s wrong?”

Varan’s aqua eyes widen in recognition, he aims his maw up into the air. Drawing in a large breath that pushes against Cind’s arms, he bellows out a piercing shriek into the sky above. Cind blinks in shock as she dodges her head out of the way. Both Marcus and Kell stop abruptly. Marcus spins around and cocks his head. “The hell is he doing?”

Cind shrugs her shoulders, and shakes her head. “I don’t know. It’s like he’s-”

Kell’s purple on black eyes widen, and his worried gaze drifts up to the thick canopy above. “He’s calling someone.”

A rumbling, overwhelming shriek reverberates from the skies above. Powerful thumps of air sift through the canopy above and rattle the upper branches of the trees. Something large above completely briefly blots of the moonlight filtering onto the forest floor. Varan pushes out another piercing shriek excitedly. Marcus eyes widen in terror and he harshly whispers. “Cind! Shut him up!”

Nearby, all moonlight fades from the large gap in the canopy. Downward gusts rustle the leaves violently, and small branches snap under the force. A huge figure flows through the opening and forces through effortlessly. Large branches bend under the strength, old tree trunks sway away against the might, and underbrush collapses under the weight. The large form folds up two pairs of massive wings, sniffs the air, and weaves through the forest with terrifying speed. Cind, Kell, and Marcus remain still in fright as the gigantic, imposing figure arrives next to them, and peers down with a pair of glowing green eyes. The analyzing stare drastically shifts to a cold glare, and the huge dragon rumbles out a deep growl as he lowers his head down. A powerful spot light shines down from the rider in the saddle, and Kaleb calls out while assessing the situation. “Sorry if we startled you all, but Lagi is a bit excited at th- Oh.”

Kaleb flips up his helmet visor with his free hand, reveals an irritated sneer, and growls out. “It’s you three.”

He stows the spot lamp, rests his hand on his holster particle blaster, and directs a stern tone. “DON’T. MOVE. I’m going to call a few people, and we’re going to wait here until everyone arrives. And, we’re going to sort this all out.”

Marcus glances around, crosses his arms, and hems. “Hey, I don’t know what's happening exactly. But, we were just trying to find our way back after hiking a bit too far into the woods. So, we are really glad you are here. If you can point us in the right direct to the road-”

Kaleb narrows his stare upon Marcus, shifts his attention to Varan in Cind’s arms, and focuses his inquisition. “Why do you have the little dragon?”

Cind sorts through her mind nervously and starts speak. Marcus steps forward calmly with his arms out to the side, and lays down a placating tone. “Oh, we found him on our hike. He must of have been following the smell of the berries we picked. He looked really lost, so we picked him up and were going to try to help him find his way home. He looks well cared for, so he probably is owned by someone.”

Grimacing hard at Marcus, Kaleb grumbles a few chirps, growls, and whistles to Lagi. He draws in a long breath as he taps out a few commands on his holographic saddle display. “Yeah... Right... I am NOT in the believing mood right now. So, we’re all going to stay right here until I make a few calls. Then, we’ll figure everything out.”

Cind and Kell remain silent and uneasy. Marcus hides an irritated curl at the corner of his mouth, chuckles lightly, and gestures towards Varan. “Listen, this seems like a big misunderstanding. If you know where the dragon’s owners are, please take him home. We were planning on taking him to the authorities as soon as we found our way out of here. So, this just makes it easier for all of us.”

Varan blinks his aqua eyes, and watches Marcus plead his case. He cocks his head side to side as fragments of understanding glint in his eyes. He narrows his unamused stare at Marcus, turns his head towards Lagi, and staggers out a jumbled series of chirps and chitters. Lagi blinks to attention from watching the trio, and focuses upon Varan with another chain of clicks and snorts. Varan pauses a moment to think, swings his head to glare down Marcus, and snorts out growls with his teeth bared. Rumbling a low growl, Lagi concentrates his ire right at Marcus. Kaleb ponders a moment, and draws out his spot light. Shining the light upon Marcus, Kaleb narrows his examining stare upon the torn shirt and scratches, frowns sharply, and shakes his head. “Yeah... No. No. You all are going to stay right where I can see you. And, I’m going to call the sheriff, too.”

When Kaleb holsters his spot lamp, Marcus blinks his eyes hard, crosses his arms defiantly, and puffs up his chest. “What for?! We were going to try to return the little dragon! You have no right to just hold us here for no reason. Listen, we’ll leave the dragon here since you want him so bad, and we’re just going to leave. Whatever you’re planning, you can leave us out of it.”

Cind and Kell exchange nervous glances, quell reflexive grimaces, and eye Marcus sternly. Kaleb perplexes at the defensive front from Marcus, rolls his eyes, and grumbles out. “Listen. Kid. You’ve got some guts, but I think you are lacking a whole lot of situational awareness right now. So, I’m feeling a little generous right now. So, I’m going to educate you.”

He leans forward in the saddle on Lagi, cocks his head to the side, and grins darkly. “You and your friends are out in the middle of the woods, in the middle of nowhere, and no one knows you are out here. Your constant stream of bullshit has kept me from calling anyone to let them know any different. And, I bet no know else knows you are out here right now.”

As Marcus’s confidence wanes, and Cind and Kell move close to each other. Kaleb sits up his seat, smirks smugly, and laughs. “So, whatever happens out here... Will only ever be known to all present, and more important by those who will leave here. And, if you didn’t know, dragons can have a slightly different take on justice and morality. That’s not exactly...”

He draws out the phrase, and mulls over the thought with ill humor. “Agreeable to your typical modern sensibilities. Yeah... Something like that.”

Craning his gaze around to make eye contact with Lagi, he smiles and gestures out to the forest. “Lagi, pick a tree you don’t like.”

Drawing back his lips to a wide, sharp grin, Lagi’s green eyes glow brightly. Slowly opening his maw, torrents of magical flow swirl from his body, and condense into a bright blue-green orb. The brilliant glow reflects off of Marcus’s dark brown eyes. Lagi snaps his glance over to a tree with a thick trunk further into the forest. A blue-green beam darts off through the forest. The magical energy threads between other trees, sharply turns, and impacts the target tree. In a flash, the plasma billows out between splinters of wood, shards of trunk, and thick plumes of ash. The upper of section of tree drops through the remnants of the charred middle, and crashes upon the newly formed stump. After a few seconds of silence, the tree tilts in one direction and topples over, dragging it’s upper half through the overhead forest canopy.

Cind and Kell watch in absolute awe. Marcus remains paralyzed from terror. Varan blinks his aqua eyes eagerly, tilts his head thoughtfully, and open his mouth to mimic. He puzzles after each attempt, chirps to himself, and concentrates on another attempt as his aqua eyes flicker.

Lagi levels his head with Marcus’s face, and snorts hard to blow Marcus’s slicked back hair astray. He shows his bright white teeth as faint traces of magical miasma vent off. Sitting upright in the saddle on Lagi, moonlight back lights Kaleb’s form, and an evil grin grows wide on his face. “Since, you are all interested in dragons... I’m sure you know that dragons are extremely omnivorous, and sometimes like to... aggressively... maintain a balanced diet.”

Kaleb pats Lagi’s shoulder. Marcus’s dark brown eyes widen in horror as Lagi’s maw opens wide in front of him. Kell pushes through the fright and sputters out. “H-H-Hey! L-l-let’s talk about this!”

Cind holds onto Varan while shuddering and pleads. “Yes! We’ve made mistakes! B-b-but, please! He doesn’t deserve that-”

Lagi swiftly closes his mouth completely around Marcus’s head. Cind screams out and Kell winces. Marcus freezes completely. Seconds later, the tension stales and bewilderment replaces fright. A mischievous smirk curls at the edges of Lagi’s mouth, and Kaleb cackles loudly. Marcus’s arms move, his hands feel around Lagi’s face, and his fingers touch the dragon’s teeth that are gently pressed against his chest and back. His voice muffles out from inside Lagi’s maw. “What... the... ?”

Lagi coughs, and a mix of saliva and phlegm oozes down onto Marcus’s shirt. Opening his mouth back open, Lagi releases the coated Marcus and sits down. Kaleb smirks smugly, and crosses his arms. “So, are we going to sit and wait patiently now?”

Cind finds a nearly log, and settles down upon in while unconsciously petting Varan. “Yes, sir.”

Kell promptly drops himself down next to Cind, straightens his posture, and nods. “Sure, man. Sounds great to me. Best plan I’ve heard tonight.”

Marcus blinks through the mucus coating over his head, plops down upon the forest floor, and sighs. “Yeah... Yeah... No, that’s good.”

Kaleb reaches out to his holographic heads up display, and starts working through a few menus. “Thank you.”

While the trio sit and wait quietly, Lagi smacks his lips, wipes his tongue against the bark of a tree, and grumbles out in disgust. Varan glances over to Marcus, sticks out his tongue briefly, and chirps back to Lagi.

Thomas rests a pencil down upon the array of blank schedules on the small dining table, leans back in his chair, and shakes his head. He chuckles, glances out the large window to the late morning light upon the lawn, and directs his voice to the aetherphone off to the side. “Well, it sounds like you had quite the night.”

Kaleb’s voice sounds out from the speakerphone, and he laughs with a drifting sigh. “Yeah. I think Lagi and I scared them enough as it is. When Mr. Frenzacia showed up with his shotgun and the sheriff, that Marcus guy didn’t have any shred of fight left in him.”

Albert twists his olive face with a frown, sips on his cup of coffee, and hums thoughtfully. “Well, it shows the child has some sense somewhere in his skull. Shame he didn’t find it sooner.”

Thomas shakes his head of short, silvery gray hair, and snorts while rolling his eyes. “Yeah. That always seems to be last thing you find after all the dumb. I should know. But... anyway...”

He drums his cybernetic fingers lightly upon a pile of paperwork, and smirks at the aetherphone. “So, I take it Varan got returned to Fawna?”

From the aetherphone, Kaleb reaffirms with a lighter tone. “Yeah. It was a little awkward for those three. But, once Varan saw Fawna, he fluttered over to her and clung to her the rest of the time Shadeesa and I were there. So, a happy ending for them. But, I don’t know what’s going to happen to the others.”

Albert quietly steps over close to the dining table, glances down at the phone, and twists a stern expression. “I’m certain Mr. Frenzacia is pressing charges, as he should?”

Kaleb sighs with a conflict in his voice. “Yeah... Yeah... He wasn’t too happy. I’m fairly certain that shotgun of his wasn’t for show. Probably shouldn’t have said anything about them possibly stealing Varan, now that I think about it. I don’t know.”

Thomas narrows a concerned gaze at his aetherphone, and pries further. “Sound uncertain there, Kaleb.”

With an indecisive groan, Kaleb ponders his feelings out loud. “I don’t know. I mean, they’re pretty stupid to be even doing what they did. Two of them weren’t on board with what that one guy did. And, to their credit they were honestly trying to make it right by finding Varan. So, I don’t know. Plus, I mean they’re High Alton students. I’d hate for their education to be completely wrecked over some dumb mistakes and misguided intentions.”

He mumbles into the call and sounds out his guilt. “Plus, I think they got enough of a reality check from Lagi and me. Jail time down here might be a little overkill? I don’t know... May something like community service?”

Thomas nods in agreement, twists his face contemplatively, and sighs. “Yeah. I was pretty stupid as a kid, too. There’s a few things I did that probably should gotten me a few weeks in jail. Maybe the system down there will have some mercy?”

Albert searches his mind quietly, tips back his mug of coffee, and darts his dark green gaze within his thoughts. Kaleb hums hopefully over the phone. “Yeah, maybe. So, anything new with you two?”

Thomas laughs with a smirk, and shakes his head. “Just trying to get ready for the semester. Got student worker schedules to fill out, and graduate assistants to assign to areas. And, I’m still trying to figure out a fair way to give out THE crappy jobs. No one wants to do that stuff.”

Lifting an intrigued brow, Albert silently steps behind Thomas, peeks over his shoulder at the empty schedules on the table, and draws a devious grin across his face. “Oh... Oh, do I ever have a solution for you two.”

Thomas glances over his shoulder at Albert, and cocks his head to the side. “And that would be?”

Kaleb’s voice sounds out from the aetherphone. “I’m listening?”

Albert narrows a curious stare. “First, who is the district attorney down there?”

From the other side of the call, muffled shuffles sound out and Kaleb mumbles. “Um, let me see here... I think I got his card around here. Had to file a report to him a few times before while on guild missions...”

Seconds of drawers opening, and papers shifting later, his voice perks up. “Ah! Found it! It’s Gordon Fairlight.”

Albert smiles smugly, chuckles confidently, and hums thoughtfully. “Oh! I know HIM. THIS is going to work about so nicely.”

He raps his fingers around his mug of coffee, sips the warm beverage, and giggles excitedly. “I’m going to solve so many problems.”

Thomas blinks curiously, and glances around to eventually refocus upon Albert. “So, how are we going to do this?”

Straightening his posture, Albert draws in a long breath of air, and grins brightly. “Well, first, I still have a few friends that wouldn’t mind talking to these students about certain groups they may have had interactions with. So, that opens up a bit flexibility for transferring their sentencing up here. I know Gordon from a while back, and it won’t take much to convince him to work something out. Also, I’m certain these children will be pretty agreeable to continue their education and avoid jail time. And, once Mr. Frenzacia hears what they’re going to be doing, he’ll be quite satisfied.”

Searching his own mind, Thomas puzzles and tilts his head to the side. “What would that be?”

Albert leans down, gazes into Thomas’s eyes, and kisses him. “Well, a semester or two of working the worst jobs you have to offer in the university stables. Solves your whole problem with finding workers those jobs, doesn’t it?”

Moments of silence pass on by, and Kaleb snorts reflexively from the other side of the call. “Oh, gods. All the mucking duties. Oh shit, that’s a little cruel and unusual. But... That would probably satisfy everyone’s sense justice down here.”

Thomas cracks a smirk, flips through the stack of papers, and pulls out an empty schedule. He studies it, rocks his head side to side, and grins. “Three dedicated people would cover all the stall cleaning jobs. And, I have plenty of graduate assistants who’d have no problems to supervising them, and making sure they behave themselves.”

Albert wraps his arm around Thomas’s neck, hugs him, and smiles deviously. “Consider it an early birthday gift.”

He stands back up, sips his coffee while walking around the small dining table, and directs his voice towards the aetherphone. “If you could, Kaleb, send me Mr. Frenzacia’s contact information along with Gordon’s. If we’re quick enough, we can get enough in place for Thomas’s new student workers to be on the road by late this afternoon. And, I think SHOULD be able to finalize it by tomorrow. If not, Monday morning. The latest.”

Kaleb ponders briefly, and laughs approvingly from other side of the call. “I’ll definitely do that. In fact, I’ll get right on it. Anyway, I think Shadeesa is looking for me anyway.”

Thomas glances over with an amused smirk to Albert, and comments towards the phone. “Yeah, you better make sure she’s happy.”

Albert blinks momentarily, flits his dark green eyes wide, and leans close to playfully whisper into the aetherphone. “Oh, before you go, let Shadeesa know I said hello and... Have you two picked a name for the baby?”

From other side of the conversation, Kaleb chuckles awkwardly. “Yes, but I am not at liberty to reveal the name till after he’s born. You’ll have to wait.”

Crossing his arms, Albert grimaces with an unsatisfied sigh. “I GUESS I understand. You go take care of the two of them.”

Thomas shakes his head with a smile and picks up his aetherphone. “You have a good day, Kaleb.”

Kaleb says goodbye to both Thomas and Albert, and the call concludes. Thomas thinks a moment, eyes Albert, and twists his mouth. “How do you know the district attorney down there?”

Rolling his eyes, and Albert shrugs his shoulders with a hint of past guilt. “Well. You know. We went to the same parties when we were younger.”

Searching his mind, Thomas furrows his brow and ponders out loud. “Oh, what kind of parties?”

Albert awkwardly smirks, eyes Thomas, and sighs. “Well, the crazier type of parties you go to when you are younger.”

Thomas grimaces uncomfortably, and mumbles out hints of embarrassment. “Oh yeah. Those types of parties. Uh, that I never went to because I was always helping on the farm, tending to a dragon, and doing night missions. So... Yeah...”

Albert swiftly steps next to Thomas’s seat, sets down his coffee, and wraps his arms around Thomas. “Oh, don’t feel that way. Really, you didn’t miss that much. Just a bunch of people trying to kill boredom.”

He hugs Thomas, and eyes him playfully. “Anyways, your stories are SO MUCH better. And, you REMEMBER most of them.”

Thomas chuckles, flips over a few pages of paperwork, and stares at another empty schedule. “Yeah... So, you don’t happen to have any other solutions to the rest of my scheduling problems?”

Albert glances down at the chronological puzzles before him, stands up, and snatches up his coffee on his way out. “Nope. I can only coerce so many people into questionable community service in any given day. Sorry.”

With a long sigh, Thomas settles his stare upon the pages of time blocks, picks up a pencil, and slides over another pile of paperwork. “Damn...”

Laying on the back bench seat of the humvee cab, Dretphi plays with a small stuffed toy dragon, and flaps its black wings with a smile. She rests it upon her chest, and admires another fuzzy toy thudkicker happily. Bach gazes out his window, and watches the surrounding suburbia wane to a sparser rural landscape. Blinking his blue eyes, he glances across the aisle to Aristespha, and lifts a curious brow at her tablet. “Trying to make sense of that route they recommended to us?”

Aristespha stares at the screen, drags her finger across the surface, and follows a long winding route on the digital map. “Yes. I guess it does make sense when you consider the other factors of this weird zone. But, it just feels so... inefficient.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form peeks over Aristespha’s shoulder, and he tugs at the corner of his mouth. “Yeah, it does, dear. But, given what they told us, it’s probably the safest route. We don’t need to make it any harder on us right now.”

Dretphi lifts her up head from a pillow, glances towards the front, and comments. “Northern route was not... friendly. This may be the fast route. Others went into dangerous areas. Some we could not cross in the humvee.”

Sotalia blinks back to awareness from her idle staring into the distance, turns her head towards the conversation, and sighs. “Still, I don’t like the fact the PDF investigators told us they didn’t find Noxian’s vehicle on the remote monitors on the main routes.”

Bach contorts his face, and musters up a bit of hope. “Well, that might be a good thing. If he’s taking some secret side route, it might have slowed him down a lot. We actually might not be too far behind him by a main route.”

Slowly nodding at the prospect, Sotalia smiles at Bach, and winks at him. “I like that thought. Hell, given how bad the weather has been, we may actually beat him there. Just wish we had an exact time he left. Gods, I hope we do find him in Precipice. He won’t be expecting it.”

Cideeda’s tail flicks up beside her, and she raps her claw tips on the steering wheel of the humvee. “He couldn’t have gone that much faster than what we’re going to be able to do. After the next check point, it’s going to be gravel roads, AT BEST. There’s a whole lot of dirt, inclines, and overgrowth from everything I read and heard. We might be lucky to average thirty kilometers an hour throughout the day.”

Aristespha rests her tablet in her lap, leans back into the seat, and gazes out her window. “We shouldn’t forget they did mention reports of recent vehicle activity on smuggling routes their scouts keep track of. So, there’s likely truth to him taking a side route. At least, we can hope.”

Sebastian smiles and chuckles lightly. “Well, either way, we should probably learn to enjoy the scenery. We’re going to be seeing plenty of it in the next few days. Just hope the conditions stay good.”

Cideeda navigates the humvee around a bend, and slowly straightens the vehicle back out. She shrugs her shoulders, resettles in her seat, and smirks. “They should from all the zone weather reports. Seems like everything is getting kicked up to the north east.”

Bach eases back into his seat, rolls his shoulders, and stretches out as his attention shifts outwards. “Well, I just hope we get more info to go in Precipice.”

The humvee rolls down a narrow two lane road as the pavement gradually degrades the further it reaches out into the zone.

The modern gray sedan coasts down the long stretch of highway. Noyando drives the car while he converses in fvalian on his aetherphone. Mera sits in the passenger’s seat, and idly gazes out into the fading suburbia. The vehicle slows to stop at a stop sign, and turns right. As the scenery passes by, Mera blinks back to awareness and perks up. Scanning the passing landmarks, she concentrates on her view of the world, as familiar aspects of the environment capture her attention. The vehicle rolls down the road past a section of forest, and Mera immediately recognizes the ranch style house. She narrows her crimson eyes, and studies the front. Moving fast down the road, she visually searches the property and settles her focus on the empty driveway. Her very long, pointed ears twitch, and she cocks her head curiously to the side. Noyando ends the call on his phone, and directs his voice to Mera. “Mera?”

Mera shudders back to awareness, and gazes over to Noyando. “Oh, yes, sorry?”

Noyando lifts a curious brow, and politely inquires. “You okay?”

Donning a smile, and Mera nods and laughs. “Oh, yes. Just noticed that one group’s humvee still isn’t there.”

Humming in thought, Noyando searches his mind, and shrugs his shoulders. “When they last ordered, they said they wanted good food before they left. So, they may have gone on an adventure? I don’t know. Adventurers do adventurer things. I don’t try to understand them. I’m just happy they like my food.”

He squints ahead down the road, and motions to a list on the center console. “Who is left on the delivery list? I forgot while talking on the phone.”

Mera picks up a list, inspects it quickly, and taps a finger between two remaining orders. “Just two more. And, I think the big one is up next.”

Noyando nods with a smile, and glances down at the navigation map on his phone. Mera glances over the seat back, and double-checks the bags of food in the back. After her inspection, she wanders her stare up through the back window, and settles upon the ranch style house shrinking in the distance. Meredosia’s eyes narrow upon the target, and she drifts of into her mind with a plotting expression.