Episode 97

A warm glow filters through the tent around a slumbering Bach. Faint twitches of consciousness flit upon his face, and he draws in a long breath. Stirring in his sleeping bag, his blue eyes flutter open as the ambient light radiates the morning sun’s heat into the small space. Familiar sounds of movement drift from outside into his ears, and slumber yields to groggy awareness. As Bach gradually reconnects his mind back to reality, he squirms in weak defiance within the comfort of his sleeping bag. He slows to a pause, and blinks in surprise. As his eyes refocus, his attention shifts down to his midsection, upon the sleeping bag. Tilting his head up from the pillow, he notices his tent flap partially open and the light sounds of claws upon fabric. Lifting his head up, he surveys the length of his sleeping bag.

A large, zone parrot with colorful plumage meets his gaze. The creature pivots its head side to side to glance at Bach with each eye curiously, and fluffs up its feathers momentarily. After a few still seconds, it ignores Bach, shifts its weight, and curls its talons around a prismatic crystal. It stares at the glittering colors while cocking its head, and trills in wonder at the artifact. Breaking from the trance, the bird clamps its beak tightly on the mineral and nibbles it around. Unproductive seconds later, boredom seizes the creature, and it slams the crystal repeatedly upon the soft fabric cover Bach’s stomach. Blinking in wonder and confusion, Bach smirks with a laugh. “Huh, uh... Hey. What are you doing in here? You like those colorful crystals?”

Lifting its head up, the zone parrot plainly drops the prismatic mineral out of its beak, and tilts its head at Bach. Perking its neck feathers up, it focuses its gaze upon Bach and whistles. Bach glances around, props himself up a little more with arms, and stares at the bird. “I guess that’s a no. Are you hungry? You want something to eat?”

As Bach continues to observe the parrot, the creature sways its head around side to side with its body and releases a series of whistles, clicks, and mimicked noises. It darts over towards Bach face with a fast waddle along the sleeping bag, halts right in front of him, and studies him. Pulling his head back, Bach blinks his blue eyes and grits his teeth uneasily with a nervous chuckle. “Nice bird. If you could get off of me, I’m sure I can get something for you to eat...”

The zone parrot fluffs its feathers momentarily, and stares curiously at Bach. In a swift motion, it clamps its beak down on Bach’s nose.

Leading with a yelp of pain, a chorus of growling squawks, flails of wings, struggles against fabric, and vocal curses between two voices ring out into the arched concrete shelter. Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia snap their attention to the tent shaking around, and the chaotic fight inside. Bach angrily swears out from inside. “OH GODS! What the fuck you little shit!?”

A jumbled mess of of mimicked words spews forth between flaps, growls, squawks, and shrieks. “Fuck you! Fuck you! Godsdamn bird! Shit! Shit! Get the fuck out!”

The rest of the quickly exchange bewildered glances. Dretphi and Cideeda rush on over with Aristespha, Sotalia, and Sebastian close behind. Grabbing hold of a support pole, Dretphi stabilizes the tent, and swiftly unzips the front flap. A few colorful feathers fly out with the air from large flapping wings, and Dretphi blinks in surprise as she tries to figure out the situation. Bach growls over the parrot’s battering wings and multilingual insults, and roars. “THAT’S IT! FUCK THIS!”

A golden pulse of light radiates out through the fabric of the tent. The flapping noise stops, while the squawks deaden to a muffle. Dretphi cocks her head of platinum blonde braids to the side, gazes inside in surprise, and leans in concerned. “Can I help?”

Bach’s silhouette against the tent outline sits up. He holds out a golden dodecahedron out of the tent, and sniffs sharply. “First, get this away from me... Please.”

Dretphi grips hold of the transparent geometric shape. She observes the zone parrot’s attempts to claw, bite, and flap inside with muffled, shrill squawks. Glancing over her shoulder, she meets Cideeda’s gawk, and passes the dodecahedron over. Cideeda grasps hold of the imprisoned zone parrot, and admires the geometry. A toothy grin grows from the corner of her mouth, and her emerald green eyes flit wide as she steps away. Dretphi shifts her attention back to Bach, and reaches in to assist him as he crawls out of the tent. Sitting upon the ground outside, Bach winces as he blinks around, feels the crimson flowing down from his nose into his beard, and groans. “Okay... I’m awake NOW. Ow...”

Dretphi spots the blood, gently places her hand under Bach’s chin, and guides his head back. “Tilt your head back.”

As Bach eases out a sigh and complies, Dretphi points to the towel around Sotalia’s hair. In a smooth motion, Sotalia unravels the damp cloth, folds it up to a workable size, and presents it to Dretphi. “Here.”

Aristespha kneels down next to Dretphi, flits her eyes wide with a violet glow, and leans in to inspect the injuries. “Well... Good news, it is nothing serious. Bad news...”

Bach’s blue eyes angle down from his tilted head of brown hair, and he cringes expectantly. “Is?”

Twisting her mouth, she directs Sotalia over towards medical supplies near another tent, and sighs sympathetically. “The disinfectant I’m going to use is REALLY going to HURT.”

Sotalia grimaces, and shakes her head as she away walks. Sebastian ethereal form hovers over and hides an ill-humored smirk. “Good gods, bro. What is it with you the wildlife?”

Rolling his eyes, Bach groans out his defeated frustration while Dretphi applies pressure with a towel. “Fuck if I know. Why do they keep going for my head in some way? All I need now is to run into some thudkickers, again.”

Dretphi awkwardly frowns, avert her steely gray gaze around, and whispers to Bach. “Saw a few this morning.”

Bach snaps a tense stare to Dretphi, and a faint grumble sounds out. Dretphi warmly smiles, and pats Bach’s head with her free hand. “They left. You are safe.”

Easing out a sigh of relief, Bach relaxes with smirk as Sotalia drops off medical supplies next to Aristespha. Cideeda raps her claw tips upon the golden dodecahedron, wags her long haired tail, and perks her furry ears. She searches around between the team, and watches the stale rage from the trapped zone parrot. “Hey, what do you want me to do with this?”

Sebastian pivots his attention over, narrows his gaze upon the translucent shape, and directs his voice to his brother. “Bro, is that roughly the same trap spell you used to do?”

Wincing from Aristespha carefully checking his nose, Bach calls out. “Yeah. It’ll fade in a minute or two. Please get it far away before then?”

With a nod, Sebastian drifts over next to Cideeda, glances annoyed at the parrot in the geometric container, and smirks to Cideeda. “So... Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

A sly, toothy grin graces Cideeda’s light brown face, her furry ears flick up, and her tail sways expectantly. She rolls the magical shape into her offhand, winks to Sebastian, and stretches her arm in preparation. “Think so. Just wish it had numbers on it.”

She digs her toes claws into the dirt, readies her bowling stance, and takes her aim.

Trakenthin’s large form cracks open the interior door of the laundry room. He peeks out into the hallway, and searches around the empty passage with hazel eyes. Slowly easing the door closed, he turns around to the rest of the team. “She is still occupying the camera crew.”

Chad reaches up, plucks a cable from the back of a wall mounted camera, and sighs. “Okay... A moment to actually talk.”

Crossing her gray skinned arms, Tassilda tosses her raven black hair, huffs out her displeasure, and frowns sharply. “By the gods, is there ANY WAY to get that insufferable pest off the team? Can’t we have a vote or something?”

Deedri flicks her furry, tufted ears in thought, tilts her head of multi-colored hair to the side, and ponders out loud. “You have a point. We ARE on a reality TV show. I mean, you would think voting someone off would totally be a thing they would do. It not like they haven’t stooped to other lows.”

Drawing in a long breath, she sighs out her frustration with a frown, and leans against the large white dryer. Modoran glances over to her as he casually lounges on top of the washer and smiles comfortingly. He shifts his gaze ahead, rolls his dark blue eyes with a wry smirk, and snorts derisively. “I had really hoped she would have... resolved herself. I mean adventuring IS dangerous and all. Stuff happens.”

A darker tone grumbles from him. “Sometimes with the right assistance.”

Modoran notices the rest of the team scrutinizing him, and he nonchalantly shrugs off the awkward moment. “I don’t mean anything too terrible to happen to her. Just enough she’d be sitting out the rest of the season.”

Biting her lip, Deedri wrestles a grimace on her fair skinned face, and glances around with a mumble to herself. “A femoral shaft fracture would do that easily...”

Blinking a few times, Modoran turns his head, stares at Deedri, and cocks his head with an amused smile. Deedri blushes at the attention, flits her auburn eyes wide in embarrassment, and shakes her head of multi-colored hair. “Not that I’m suggesting anything like THAT. But, I’m really shocked she hasn’t managed to do that to herself.”

Glancing over Trakenthin, Modoran cracks an evil grin and perks a brow. “Training session mishap?”

Trakenthin blinks, frowns with a dragging groan, and shakes his head. “Tempting. No. Would not feel right. Would be obvious if I did. Surprised that more injury has not happened to her.”

Gritting his teeth uneasily, Chad holds his hands up, and waves down the developing plot. “As... effective as that would be... There’s actually a number of clauses in our contracts with the show that prevent THAT type of stuff from happening. I’m guessing due to prior seasons.”

He rolls his brown eyes, and twist his mouth. “I sent my copy to my mother and father. There’s really no easy way out of them without giving up the all the pay and risking a breach of contract lawsuit.”

Trakenthin grumbles with a nod of his head. Modoran crosses his arms, and frowns in defeated acceptance. Deedri sighs and tightly smiles as she sorts through her own thoughts. Tassilda huffs out her irritation, slides her hands tightly along her swirling horns, and shakes her head. “What options do we have?”

A reserved smile appears on Chad’s tan face, and he combs his fingers through his light brown coiffed hair. “Well, we actually are getting close to the minimum number of episodes outlined in the contract. So...”

He gazes over the team in the laundry room, grins slyly, and chuckles. “I’m thinking we let her have her way. Let her hog all the camera attention, and let her choose the most bullshit missions. It’ll be annoying, but keep the recorded drama to a minimum.”

Tassilda narrows her light blue on black stare at Chad, tilts her head to side, and puzzles at the proposal. Trakenthin searches his mind, scratches his short dirty blonde hair, and lifts an intrigued eyebrow. Rapping her claw tipped fingers on her forearm, Deedri sways her weight side to side with the wags of her tail, and smirks deviously. “That might work even better than you think. If the ratings drop enough, they might end the season right after the requirement.”

Modoran tilts his head towards Chad, grins, and chuckles. “I like it. We can’t be too obvious about it. But, just the right amount and it be long over before they quite figure it out.”

Resting his hands at his sides, Chad straightens up his posture, smiles proudly to everyone, and laughs. “Well, I think that’s as good enough of a plan for now.”

He chuckles with a waning confidence into a drifting, awkward cadence. “And, if it works out just right, then we can focus on doing some real adventuring on our own... If any of you... want to...”

Silence swells into the laundry room and presses down upon the assembled team. Chad shrinks against the quiet as Trakenthin, Tassilda, Modoran, and Deedri process the idea. Seconds later, Trakenthin glances down at Chad, and smirks. “Worthwhile endeavor.”

Tassilda guides her hair back over a horn, smiles smugly at Chad, and laughs. “Admittedly, this whole experience started out rough, but I can see it working between present company.”

Modoran and Deedri exchange quick glances. Perking her furry, tufted ears up, Deedri nods in agreement towards Chad. “I think so, too. We can definitely try a few more missions.”

Modoran surveys the team, shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly, and grins. “Hell, crazier shit that we saw ourselves has worked. Let’s give it a go.”

A renewed sense of pride swells up in Chad, and he slightly bow to the team respectfully. “Thank you. It really means a lot. I’m still figuring all this out. But, I’d really like to give it an honest, proper shot.”

Easing out a long sigh, he grits his teeth and shakes his head. “But of course, AFTER we’ve had a few weeks break from this show.”

The group agrees together with laughs and relief. Trakenthin notices noises from the hallway, and signals the team. Quickly the members of the Flames of the Phoenix sneak out of the laundry room, and Chad plugs the camera back in before he exits.

Bach’s eyes flutter open and he groggily pulls himself up with a long yawn. Wiping the traces of sleep from his face, he glances around the cab of the humvee and observes the early morning idling. Patting around the side of his seat, he pulls up a lever and adjusts the back to an upright position. He fights through one final yawn, grimaces through, and sighs quietly while pinching down the small bandage on his nose. “I think I’d risk another bite on the nose to have sleep in something like that last rest site.”

Dretphi grumbles with a nod as she curls up tighter in a blanket on the back row bench. Aristespha stretches her back by twisting her upper half in the seat, and sighs her agreement. “Yes. That was certainly not the best sleep I’ve had.”

Opening her golden eyes halfway, Sotalia groans weakly and with a frown curling the corner of her mouth. She combs her long black nailed fingers through her fiery orange, curly hair, and briefly sticks her tongue out in disgust. “Tell me about it, girl. I don’t know what it was, but I could NOT get comfortable last night around here.”

Wrestling a grimace across her face, she sneers her upper lip, tensely shrugs her shoulders, and squirms in her seat. “Still feeling strange today.”

Peering over her shoulder towards Bach and Aristespha, she lifts a curious brow at the two. “You two sensing anything weird? I keep feeling... something... Kinda magical, but not quite what I’m used to? It’s hard to describe.”

Bach and Aristespha exchange intrigued expressions. Searching his thoughts, Bach rocks his head indecisively side to side. “Maybe? This place definitely has a weird vibe to it. But, that just might be the usual around here.”

Aristespha twists her mouth, hums in thought, and narrows her distant gaze. “It feels different today. But, that could be the specific area we’re in?”

Scanning her emerald green eyes around the scenery surrounding the humvee and flicking her furry ears, Cideeda raps her claw tips upon the center console, and slowly nods. “I’d lean towards that. This camp site is pretty crappy, and a little creepy. Especially, after what we were treated to last.”

Sebastian’s voice emanates from the sword resting on floorboard between Aristespha and Bach. “Yeah. Hard to beat that place. But, patrolling around last night, there wasn’t anything bad at all. Oddly peaceful. Maybe a little too peaceful? I don’t know. Nothing conclusive from the what sword can sense.”

Stretching out her arms and curling her clawed fingers, Cideeda wraps her hands around the steering wheel, and eyes the roughly cleared lot of gravel along the side of the main patchy roadway. “So, I’m guessing we can start rolling out?”

Watching a series nods from the rest of the team, she flips a few switches and the vehicle’s powerplant spins up. “Good. I vote to tear into those breakfast bars and juice boxes.”

Dretphi perks up, sits up on the back bench, and unzips a large pack. “Indeed.”

Sotalia rubs her stomach lightly, grimaces, and sighs. “I’ll take some orange juice for now. Not quite there yet for food.”

Leaning out into the aisle, Bach directs his concern ahead. “If you want, you lean your seat back a bit and take it easy.”

An appreciative smile graces Sotalia’s face, and she gazes at Bach with a nod. “Thank you. That actually sounds good. Think I’ll just sort through all the crystals we got again. Maybe a little distraction will help.”

As the humvee rolls back on to the road, the team opens breakfast bar wrappers and stakes straws into juice boxes. After poking the straw through Cideeda’s drink and handing it over, Sotalia shifts her attention to a number of prismatic crystals resting upon a blanket over her lap. She sorts through the different mineral formations, eyes them curiously, and sets aside a few on the front dash. As the team debates the flavor highlights of their meals, the random rainbow of color refracting through the crystals on the dash slowly synchronize from sparkling specks to wavering waves.

Up a high hill, Isaac slowly scans the rolling scenery around with a pair of binoculars as the breezes flutters stray, wispy white hairs on his head. Tapping his finger thoughtfully on the chassis of the lenses, he calls back to Mavian. “I do believe we are getting close. I’m seeing a lot of old structures that Malkav described in his notes. A bit far away to be sure, but the style of the architecture is in line with what I would expect.”

Mavian nods his head as his faintly glowing green eyes survey another swath of the landscape, and he directs his voice over to Isaac. “Good. It’s been a long time since I’ve been over in this area specifically. I do remember one area that might be the best place to check next.”

Isaac lowers the binoculars from his gray eyes, slowly turns his head with a tight smile on his face, and sighs. “Let me guess, there’s no direct route to it?”

Cracking a humored smirk, Mavian shrugs his shoulders, and chuckles. “Unfortunately not. The zone abhors a straight path to anything. But, thankfully, while a longer route... It’s fairly boring route and an easy drive.”

A sigh of relief escapes from Isaac as he steps closer to the blue all terrain vehicle, and slowly shakes his head with a laugh. “By the gods, I will take all the boring you can offer. And, pay the highest premium you can ask.”

Mavian snorts, pivots around, and starts walking back to the vehicle. Gazing up into the skies above, his stare halts upon a part of the western horizon. He squints his green eyes as they brighten intensely, and sharply grits his teeth. “SHIT.”

Isaac freezes in place, snaps his attention to Mavian, and glances around. “What is it?”

Focusing his full concentration, Mavian lifts his hand and points towards the distant skies. “Over there. Use your mage sight. This is what I was talking about.”

Following Mavian’s guidance, Isaac eyes illuminate and he squints into the western horizon. As the moments pass, his stare grows into an awestruck gawk. “I think... I think I see what you are talking about. It’s so subtle... Just like you said... A vague... Pattern?”

Nodding uncomfortably, Mavian stiffly draws an uneasy breath through his nose, and plucks a field radio off his belt. “Yep. Thankfully, I think it’s early enough to get the alert out well in advance.”

Isaac’s attention shifts to a thought springing to front of his mind, and his concern widens his eyes. “Oh gods! Is that near Precipice?”

Shaking his head as he watches, Mavian lifts up the radio to his mouth, and motions towards a more southern section of the horizon. “No. Precipice is that way. But, that spot close to one of the main roads to it. Thankfully, surges seem to never hit towns.”

He glances seriously over to Isaac. “It might take a bit, but I got to get this properly reported so the PDF and Borderland Rangers know where to monitor. And, it'll also warn any zone runners.”

Isaac nods encouragingly to Mavian, and shifts his intrigued gawk back to the skies. “Please, go ahead!”

He pauses a moment in thought. “Strange that such phenomena doesn’t happen to towns, but I’m glad that’s the case then.”

Mavian shrugs his shoulders and twists his mouth. “Yeah. People debate on why that s lot.”

He steps up to the hood of the all terrain vehicle, takes breath in, and keys up his radio. “Surge sign. Surge sign. This is runner Mavian reporting an early stage surge sign on the horizon. Reporting north east of Precipice. Sighting is westward on my horizon. Requesting assist to triangulate.”

As the seconds pass, he bites his lower lip and grumbles. “Come on... Stupid radio relays...”

Through heavy static a calm, commanding voice rises out of the warping background hiss and blares out from the radio. “This is Captain Hays of the Borderland Rangers... ...just north of Brook’s Haven... ...Providing vector towards the east.”

Seconds later, another stern tone pushes through strange warbling shifts of acoustics and droning interference. “PDF Patrol Boat Hellbringer reporting. Ready to radar coordinate and relay to Perimeter.”

Mavian blinks at the response, draws out a large rolled up map from his pack on the front passenger’s seat of the blue vehicle, and flops it upon the hood. Isaac rushes over and holds open the chart while Mavian fishes out other tools from his pack. The radio chirps as other people join in on the response.

The late afternoon evening sun looms over the horizon in the west and the blue partly cloud sky, and trace hints of evening orange and purple sneak out into the palette. The humvee wheels churn through shallow patches of loose gravel, and grind through the layers as the vehicle climbs up a steep incline. Gracing the crest of the hill, Cideeda spins the steering wheel through a number of motions and navigates around washed out ruts down the slope. Gritting her teeth through the brief obstacle course, she eases out a sigh of relief and shakes her head of short, multi-colored hair. “That storm a few days ago really worked this place over.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form lean towards the front of the vehicle and glances over to Cideeda. “How are you holding up?”

Weighing her options, Cideeda contorts her light brown face, and grumbles reluctantly. “If I listen to my pride, I could totally keep going. But... If I listen to my laziness, I could totally settle in for the night.”

With a confirming nod, Sebastian smiles and glances over his shoulder towards Aristespha. “Dear, could you check the map to see if there’s any good place to stop soon? No sense in pushing our luck.”

Aristespha flutters her violet eyes back open, tilts her head forward off the seat rest, and disguises her wake from a nap. “Oh... Uh... Yes, I completely agree, Sebastian. I will check the map.”

Sebastian dons a loving smile to Aristespha as faint hints of embarrassment fade from Aristespha’s ivory cheeks. He shifts his attention towards Sotalia in the passenger’s seat and cocks his head to the side. “How are you holding up?”

Laying back in a tilted seat, Sotalia turns her head, slips hand out from underneath her blanket, and brushes stray orange hairs over her swept back horns. “Just feeling... uncomfortable. On edge for some reason. I can’t figure out why though.”

Nodding in thought, a glint from the prismatic crystals resting in a cup holder catches Sebastian’s attention, and he points his ghostly finger. “What’s going on with those?”

Sotalia gazes down at the rhythmic rainbow colors drifting through the crystal, narrows her golden eyes, and frowns unsatisfied. “I don’t know. It’s gone from glittering to waves of color. I’ve been trying to figure it out, but I’m too distracted by this weird feeling.”

Thinking quietly for a moment, Sebastian drifts his inquisitive focus over to Bach. “Bro, you feeling anything strange?”

Bach blinks back to awareness from his aimless stare out his window, and ponders out a loud. “Um... Yeah... I feel something. But, it’s hard to describe. It- Um- It’s like a should be expecting something?”

Sotalia angles her head up and direct her voice back. “I felt that earlier today. This... It’s like something is moving around us.”

Aristespha glances up from her study of the map on her tablet, and frowns uneasily. “It feels like the pressure system has changed. That’s the best I can describe it.”

Cideeda glances into the rear view mirror, meets Dretphi’s puzzled gaze, and the two exchange mutual shrugs. Sebastian hums with an ethereal reverb, and crosses his arms. “Yeah. Haven’t noticed any sudden changes with what the sword can sense. But, then again, I’m still figuring this thing out.”

A chorus of alert chimes spread through the cab of the humvee. Aetherphones ring out, the humvee radio chirps, and the holoplayer screen materializes above it’s resting place on the center console. Cideeda swiftly taps through a sequence of buttons on the vehicle’s radio, and the speakers crackle to life with a stern woman’s voice.

“Warning. Warning. Warning. This is an emergency broadcast from the Perimeter Defense Force and Borderland Rangers. A Surge Sign has been confirmed by multiple sources. Please seek a Surge Shelter immediately if you are in or near the affected area. Please standby for coordinates. Please standby for coordinates. Please standby for coordinates...”

As the voice clearly dictates a series of numbers through the warping static of the radio channel, the holoplayer’s holographic screen streams out similar information from a data radio broadcast. Spectrum monitors flood with activity as tones of data transmissions decode into lines of text on screen, and another window appears with a map image gradually flowing into existence. Cideeda concentrates on the road ahead, and calls out the rest of the team. “Someone check that! I don’t want to drive into that mess.”

Aristespha leans forward carefully reads the data on the holoplayer, and checks the map on her tablet. Bach, Sotalia, and Dretphi check their aetherphones. With each glance between the different screens, Aristespha’s violet eyes widen, her concern contorts her face, and her body tenses. Sebastian quickly notices the rigid body language, turns to Aristespha, and asks with hints of worry. “Dear... What is it?”

Lifting her head up to address the group, Aristespha sharply pulls in a breath of air through her nose, and presents a frown upon her slightly pale face. “Oh. Fuck... I think were right in the middle of it.”

A strangling silence stills the team inside the cab, as they exchange wide eyed stares in between the slow seconds. Sebastian blinks his eyes hard as his ethereal form pales briefly. Sorting through the stunned stares of the rest of the team, he stiffens his upper lip and straightens his posture. “Okay. Everyone listen carefully.”

He direct his calm, commanding tone to Cideeda. “Cideeda. Full power ahead. Drive it as hard as you think you can manage.”

Cideeda nods, snaps her grip to a throttle control, and pushes it all the way. While the powerplant revs up to an audible roar in the cab, Sebastian glances back to Dretphi and motions to Aristespha’s tablet. “Dretphi. Work with Aristespha and Cideeda on the route ahead. Find us a shelter. Failing that, the quickest route of out the area.”

Dretphi summons a stoic front, and slides into the aisle between Bach and Aristespha. Sebastian hovers out of the way behind Aristespha and directs his tone to her. “Dear. Work on protective wards or whatever you think can help.”

He shifts his glance up to Sotalia. “Sotalia. Until we get in a shelter or out of it, be ready to handle magic bullshit that gets in our way.”

Gazing over to Bach, he nods to his brother. “Bro, help as you always do... But, start thinking of one of your Oh Shit plans. We just might need it.”

Aristespha, Sotalia, and Bach acknowledge Sebastian’s orders. Settling in for the trek ahead, Sebastian sighs with a grit of his teeth. “And keep an eye out for any signs of the situation changing. We may not have that much time to act if it turns bad.”

While the humvee speeds up and everyone readies themselves, Bach searches the calm skies above with an uneasy frown. He blinks his blue eyes hard, and reopens them to a glowing illumination. His upwards stare widens with reflexive gasp, and he cringes as he scans above. “Shit... THAT is not normal.”

Aristespha’s violet eyes ignite, and she gazes out her window. Her expression sours abruptly, and she nervously exhales. “No, it isn’t. That much flow is not supposed to be in the sky and uniformly moving.”

Sotalia golden gaze flickers brightly. She blinks blankly, averts her gaze from the skies, and focuses her attention forward. “Gods dammit. Well, THAT explained TOO much.”

A tall horizon stretching, column of clouds swirl fast overhead in a torrent of pulsating hues. Electrical arcs rip across the sky and ignite plumes of prismatic flow. The churning maelstrom of chaos vacuums the energy into the forming aerial wall. Cyclones of wind whip horizontally through the lower atmosphere and engulf specs of light drifting near. Gusts of unseen force yank the tops of trees to one direction and abruptly snap them back the opposite. Orbs of light fall down upon the landscape in waves, and pulses of energy erupt throughout the area as they smash into the ground. The roar of a turbine screams as the humvee rips through the top layer of gravel on the rough path, and all four wheels spin against the momentum pulling along the sharp turn.

A world shaking low rumble resonates from the sky above. The acoustics pulsate in a warbling cacophony of twisting pitches. The leaves and branches vibrate against the overbearing pressure, gravel shakes loosely into staggered flows upon the road, and the windows of the humvee faintly flex. Cideeda’s furry ears reflexively flicks down tightly against the back of her neck and shoulders, and she grits her teeth while digging her claws into the steering wheel. “FUCK! It’s keeps making that SOUND! The fuck is THAT?!”

As the vehicle powers through a section of plants shifting by themselves in still air, Cideeda’s emerald eyes widen, the hair on the back of her neck and sideburns flares out, and her tightly coiled tail fluffs out. She fights against an uncomfortable grimace, and glances over to Sotalia. “Okay... That’s... new. Did you feel that... wind that wasn’t wind... move through you?”

Sotalia nods, pats Cideeda’s shoulder comfortingly, and maintains her watchful stare ahead. “Yes. That was huge jet of background flow. It’s usually a lot nicer feeling. I promise. Just not right now.”

Dretphi shudders as she struggles to keep a stoic expression on her tan face, and uneasily strains a breath through her teeth. “I FELT that. Strange.”

She shakes her head of platinum blonde braids, steadies herself upon the aisle floor between Bach and Aristespha. She refocuses upon both paper and digital maps in her hands. Retracing the charted route with her finger, she glances at landmarks through the front windshield, and directs her voice to Cideeda. “Hard left. Slight right. Slight decline. Sharp incline. Long straight.”

Gritting her sharp teeth, Cideeda musters up her determination and scans the road ahead. “Got it. Hold on. Next turn is coming up.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form materializes behind Dretphi in the aisle, and his ghostly tone reports. “Clear ahead from what I can tell.”

His visage warps slightly and shimmers off hue briefly. After a moment, his projection stabilizes and he shakes his head. “Shit, I think the sword is actually confused. Not that I can blame it, because it’s absolute chaos out there.”

Peering around Dretphi’s shoulder, he summons up a calm tone and inquires. “How much further?”

Bracing herself against Bach’s seat as the humvee slides into a drift through the turn, she glances over at the securing grip of Bach on upper arm shoulder appreciatively. Shifting her knees wide upon the aisle floor, she shifts her weight against gradual lateral forces and feels the supporting grasp of Aristespha. In the lull of forces, Dretphi draws in a quick breath and glances up to Sebastian. “Four kilometers. Nearest shelter I could find.”

Sebastian nods with a reassuring smile, gazes ahead, and addresses the team. “Okay. We’re going to make this work. Just keep it up for a little while longer everyone.”

The humvee rides down a long slope towards a rocky stream bed. Aristespha’s brilliantly violet glowing eyes, squint momentarily, and widen. “Cideeda! Move two meters to the right. Something is in that creek!”

Cideeda tugs the steering sharply, guides the vehicle over, and straightens out. The humvee splashes through the shallow water, and roars up the hill side path. Behind, a section of the stream bubbles with vapor dissipating quickly into the winds. Sebastian turns his gaze back to the front, and sighs out his relief. “Good catch, dear.”

Speeding down the straight away, a wave of energy orbs rain down from above. Small specs of illumination bounce of a translucent barrier coating the humvee, and Aristespha narrows her eyes in to focus. Her very long, pointed ears twitch back, and she calmly exhales as magic flows from her arms into the frame of humvee. The bits of phenomena slick of the pulsating shell and fall onto the roadside. Sotalia straightens her posture in the front passenger’s seat, darts her glance around, and peers up through the windshield. Her golden eyes widen in fright and she yells out. “INCOMING!”

A large energy mass flops heavily upon the front of the hood, and oozes out upon the protective magical shell. Cideeda tenses her muscles, wrestles to maintain control, and steels herself as she steadies the humvee. The team blankly stares. Seconds pass, and Sotalia breaks the uneasy silence. “Okay, I’ll pull this one off before I does any-”

The prismatic mass sparks and bubbles, and flame billows out. The fire surrounds the vehicle as it speeds down the road, and the protective magical barrier warps to opacity against the onslaught. Aristespha grimaces, summons up a surge of flow, and grumbles out straining. “Get that thing OFF of us! I can only keep the barrier working for so long against all this...”

Cideeda clamps her claws on the steering wheel, grits her teeth, and stares her wide emerald green eyes through the flames flowing over the windshield. Sotalia growls out her frustration as she searches vainly for a solution. “Maybe if I shield the fire enough, I can get dispel out-”

Bach leans forward from his seat, pull himself through the gap between Cideeda and Sotalia, and firmly places his hands on the front dash. “I got something! Give a me moment.”

With Dretphi holding his midsection secure, Bach’s eyes flash to a bright blue. Swirls of magical flow surge out from his body, jet along his form, and collect into streams of energy. Threads of magic materialize, weave into dense cables, and rush down into the air condition vents. Moments later, a web of prismatic traces erupt upon the surface of the hood. A large golden triangular shape emerges underneath the protective bubble and flaming blob. Nineteen other triangles materialize from the central point in a purposeful pattern from the central shape. A determined smirk cracks from the corner of Bach’s mouth, and he narrows his brilliant blue stare at the fiery mass. Fibers burst out from the edges of the triangles, slip up through the protective bubble, and snag the large blob. The triangular branches curl and fold up, as the threads of magical energy peel the anomaly off the translucent barrier. Pulses of prismatic flow rush down the magical cables in Bach’s hand, and the closing container wrenches the flaming entity into the trap. Gritting his teeth, Bach sends a massive surge of flow, and the edges seal the fiery anomaly into a golden dodecahedron. With a final pulse of power, a burst of concussive force ejects the trap high into air and clear of the humvee.

Aristespha eases out a thankful sigh, and glances over with a tired smile. “Thank you. That was taking a lot out of me.”

Bach nods and chuckles. “Yeah. I know the feeling.”

He awkwardly works his way back, and pats around for a good grip. Sotalia holds onto his upper arm, Dretphi shifts him backwards. He flops back into his seat, and shakes his head as the glow dims in his eyes. “I hope another one doesn’t do that. I’m going to need a few minutes.”

Cideeda’s furry ears perk up, and aim forward. She narrows her eyes ahead, scans the horizon, and cracks a hopeful smile. “I think I hear a siren! That must be the surge shelter! We’re close!”

A loud crack echoes, and a large mass of leaves sharply shifts in the surrounding forest ahead. The large tree tilts towards the road, and slowly descends. While the rest of the team watches in shock, Sotalia sneers her upper lip, speeds through a complicated series of incantations and gestures, and yanks the door handle. Pushing the door open with her foot, she thrusts her arms forward at the tumbling lumber, and a jet of nearly invisible force rushes out. The energy envelopes a section of the trunk, rushes down to the ground, and solidifies. The tree slows to a halt mid fall, and hangs at an angle to the ground. Sotalia strains hard as prismatic energy surges out of her, swirls into the beam, and collects into the forming transparent tower. With a harsh wince, she sharp rotates her hands around the condensation of flow, and the column of force pushes the tree over to fall in another direction.

The humvee speeds by, the energy dissipates, and Sotalia slumps back into her seat as the door closes back. Panting out the stress, she groans out. “Let’s get in that shelter already!”

With a hard shove, Dretphi pushes the heavy metal, symbol inscribed door of the surge shelter closed. As Bach steps past the archway into a large central room, he flicks up blue illumination orbs up onto the ceiling. “Looks like there’s a few alcoves around this main room. Not much else.”

Sebastian hovers out into the center of the circular chamber, and gazes up at the overhead dome. “Yeah. Probably sleeping areas. Might be some fold out cots or something.”

Sotalia slowly walks out, rubs the temples of her head, and grips her swept back horns. She grimaces, groans out her exhaustion, and drops down on wall-mounted bench encircling the central room. “Gods, I need to sit down. What a day...”

Bach flicks the last orb, plods over to the bench spot next to Sotalia, and plops down. “Yeah... That doesn’t sound too bad. Just need a few minutes...”

Surveying the area, Cideeda peeks into side rooms, and inspects the layouts. “This shelter looks pretty basic so far. But, it’ll do-”

Her furry ears twitch back towards the heavy metal door, and she pivots to face Dretphi. “I think someone just pulled up outside.”

Sebastian zips up to the heavy door, phases his head through briefly, and nods towards the rest of the team. “Looks like another group. Get the door open for them, and I’ll disappear for now.”

Dretphi muscles the door handle open, readies herself, and tugs door open. She peers out in the chaotic outside, and yells. “DOOR IS OPEN! HURRY!”

Second later, a woman in elegant robes, a grath man carrying large medical pack, a large man with a sword on his back, an emin woman with a scar across her face and pistols at her sides, and a thin, hooded figure with a sleek outfit emerge from the doorway into the entry area. As the group collects themselves, the large man greets Dretphi and motions towards the door. “Thank you. Don’t worry, it’s just us. We didn’t see anyone else on our way here.”

Dretphi nods with a smile, presses the heavy metal door shut, and engages the latch. Aristespha steps into the entry from the central room and Cideeda waves to the new group. Bach tries to get up from the bench. He feels the sudden firm grip of a trembling hand on his arm, gazes over to the frightful, pleading stare of Sotalia, and watches her panicked, shallows pants. His blue eyes flit wide with recognition, and he glances over towards the entry archway at the realization. Snapping his attention back to Sotalia, he gazes calmly into her golden eyes, and whispers reassuringly. “It’ll be okay. Pull your cloak over, and just act like you fell asleep. I’ll sit with you.”

Blinking back to some awareness, Sotalia quietly nods, yanks the hood of cloak over her head, and drops her head down. She leans slightly towards Bach, and turns her head away from the entryway. Aristespha steps into the central chamber, motions to the space, and shrugs her shoulders with a smile on her ivory face. “I wish we could tell you more, but we just arrived ourselves.”

The tall man with the sword on his back nods, laughs lightly, and crosses his arms. “Completely understand. Thankfully, we weren’t too far away when got the alert.”

The rest of the new group filters into central chamber, and Cideeda and Dretphi follow. The tall man pauses in thought a moment, extends his hand, and smirks with a bit of embarrassment. “Pardon my manners, the name is Omaron.”

Aristespha shakes Omaron’s hand, and bows politely. “Aristespha. Pleasure to meet you.”

Omaron glances around at the rest of his group, sighs, and shakes his head. “Once we settle down, we’ll be happy to do introductions.”

Panning her gaze between Dretphi, Cideeda, Bach, Aristespha settles her stare upon Sotalia, and puzzles while responding. “Understandable. We’re recovering ourselves.”

She lifts a confused brow and directs her concern to Bach, motioning towards Sotalia. Bach smirks awkwardly and chuckles quietly. “She said she was going to rest her eyes.”

Aristespha rolls her violet eyes, and smiles back. “Heard that one before. It’s been quite a day for all of us.”

Sneaking a glance out of the corner of his hood, the thin figure in the sleek outfit, scrutinizes Bach with recognition, and shifts his attention to the sleeping woman next to him with a sly grin. After a few minutes of people settling down and enjoying the lull in activity, a low rumble vibrates through the structure as the outside acoustic pressure warbles through twisting pitches. The heavy metal door rattles against its frame, and Dretphi, Cideeda, and Aristespha watch it. Exchanging uneasy glances, Aristespha waves over to Bach. “I think we might need you help. This door does not look that secure.”

Cideeda grits her sharp teeth, points towards the entry, and shakes her head. “Yeah, it’s misaligned or something. Maybe you can barrier it up until later.”

Bach blinks to attention, and nods slowly. “Okay, I’ll be right there.”

He whispers out the side of his mouth to Sotalia. “Stay calm. I’ll be right back.”

Sotalia eases out a shuddering breath and quietly sneaks out. “Okay...”

Bach stands up from the bench, and rushes over to the team. They cautiously approach the entry door. Lurking around the darker shadows of the room, the thin, hooded figure in the sleek outfit steps silently over to Sotalia. Swiftly he slinks in front of her. Sotalia’s body tenses and she remains silently still. The thin man kneels down, cranes his head around, and grins with recognition as he catches Sotalia’s golden eyed stare. “Hello, Sotalia.”

Pupils narrowing to pinpoints, Sotalia freezes completely, motionless and breathless. Seconds later, her eyes roll back, and she flops unceremoniously upon the bench, completely limp. As the noise echoes in the chamber and Sotalia's faint seizes everyone’s attention, the emin woman with a scar across her face, glares angrily at the thin hooded man. “WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO?!”

Stumbling onto the floor in shock, the hooded man shrugs his shoulders pleadingly. “I don’t know!? I just said hello! Really!”